Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.PS 119:105
Book Review Archive
I Believe - A Journey of Faith and CopingWorship Come to Its SensesPromotion of Social RighteousnessJosie's GiftDietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison - A BiographyMiracles: A Preliminary StudySticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your KidsTwelve Steps to a Compassionate LifeUnbinding the Heart:40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing
By Ed HazelwoodBook review by Preston Carter
In I Believe - A Journey of Faith and Coping, Ed Hazelwood, a First Pres Stephen Minister, shares how his life's journey has developed his beliefs and strengthened his faith in God. Ed invites readers to live vicariously through his experiences and see how they would have reacted and how this might shape their own beliefs and faith. Each chapter ends with questions to stimulate thought and reflection. I Believe is an exciting and inspiring book when read on one's own, and it would be ideal to read with a partner or in a small group. Ed's faith journey began in childhood on a Missouri farm with parents who "attended church regularly, consistently kept others in their prayers and always offered a shoulder to lean on when it seemed others needed it." Although they have passed, Ed says their spirit is always with him, "acting as an internal compass to guide me in those times when I am uncertain." One of Ed's most memorable adventures was his two-year assignment as a communications technology consultant in Cairo, Egypt. He recalls how he attended a military parade on Oct. 6, 1981, and was standing at the end of the reviewing stand, 80 to 100 feet from President Anwar Sadat, when "Some of the soldiers in the parade stopped. Their guns were pointed directly at the President ...," who was assassinated. Ed knew that God was with him then, as he avoided injury, survived the state of emergency, recovered his confiscated passport, and eventually returned home. Ed's faith and attitude toward life are also revealed by the titles of two chapters in his book: "Learning from a heart attack" and "Learning from cancer." Coping with these illnesses, Ed learned that God was always with him and that support from his wife Susan, family, friends and church led to recovery. He also learned that we need to take care of ourselves, "be informed, have early and frequent checkups and keep a positive attitude." Sports have engaged Ed throughout his life. After back problems put a halt to marathon running, he took up automobile racing, eventually running Porsches at Daytona International Speedway. In what Ed calls "one of my most memorable races" at his home track in Brainerd, Minn., he tells how he set a lap record at the track and then, in one of those moments he says you look back on and ask, "What was I thinking," he decided to go even faster, and ended up flying off the track and through the air. God was certainly with Ed at that moment because, following a medical exam, he was able to walk out of the hospital. The final chapters encourage us to reflect on our core beliefs and find and fulfill our mission in life. "God has a purpose for you," Ed says. He also presents a "toolbox" of words and guidance for personal motivation. The chapters in I Believe end with a section called, "How this affected me, and what I learned." When you read Ed's book, and work with the questions and tools he presents, you'll not only learn what Ed believes, but you will better understand what you believe, and see a clearer picture of your own journey of faith and coping. I Believe -- A Journey of Faith and Coping is in the First Pres library and is available for purchase in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. Return to top of page
By Dr. Don E. Saliers, Professor Emeritus, Emory University. Book review by Kathy Chambers, February 2013
When I first saw the title Worship Come to Its Senses I imagined this book would be about worship in relation to the five traditional senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), with an emphasis on the sense of hearing the spoken word, songs, and musical instruments. As an artist I am very aware of using the sense of sight to create a visual worship atmosphere through the use of banners, displays, artwork, dance, signing to the deaf, etc. I have always been fascinated with how stained glass windows were used during the Middle Ages to illustrate the Bible's teachings to the people of that day who were mostly illiterate.
The introduction of this book begins with a discussion about "coming to our senses" as in "to come to terms with." Dr. Saliers says that coming to our senses requires both the deepening of thought and the awakening of conscience. In this book we are offered insight into the relationship of theology and worship practices. We are encouraged to think about how and why we worship God, and we are challenged to awaken our hearts and minds to a fresh perspective in order to achieve a deeper, more meaningful experience.
This easy to read book is made up of only four chapters. Each chapter offers an exploration of one of four senses -- not the traditional ones that I assumed, but of the four "senses" of God. Dr. Saliers labels these: awe, delight, truth, and hope. He calls these senses because they name patterns in the human experience of God. He offers theproposition that these are not sequenced steps we can neatly program for better worship but they are features of what we experience when God becomes real.
This book could be used in a Bible study group to explore ways to deepen the worship experience. It could also be used as a resource for worship planning. Return to top of page
By Cynthia L. RigbyReviewed by Jacquie Peterson, January 2013
Of the six great ends of the Church, the promotion of social righteousness is one which sparks many questions and much thought, especially since it overlaps the other five great ends. Rev. Cynthia Rigby points out, "the promotion of social righteousness is part and parcel of the proclamation of the gospel for salvation since the good news is concerned with bodies as well as souls. . . . the promotion of social righteousness is one way the church exhibits the kingdom of heaven to the world"[i].
One of the reasons I joined First Pres 25 years ago was our level of outreach into the community and into the world. I saw this congregation walk the talk then, as I do now. Yet, I approached this this book with many questions. As I was reading it during the 2012 US presidential campaign with all the hyperbole and negative ads, it was refreshing to ground myself with God's Word. I found my faith in God's promises affirmed. I found new challenges in my prayer and discerning God's will in matters affecting our world today.
While the listing of this great end is particularly American in origin with roots at the turn of the 20th century, few details and documentation exist about its adoption by the Presbyterian Church. Interpretations of how this great end is to be played out vary not only with the times (as can be seen in a review of the Social Creed of 1908[ii]concerned with safe working conditions in a newly industrialized nation and A Social Creed for the 21st Century[iii], which is global, human rights and environmentally focused), but also in how we see ourselves.
Rev. Rigby adeptly describes those of us who see ourselves as "enduring an ungodly culture (neither in the world, nor of it) or living in barely distinguishable relationship to the world (both in the world and of it)."[iv] The former feeling the promotion of social righteousness is futile; the latter feeling it to be presumptuous. In contrast, we are taken to the turn of the 20th century when many Christians saw themselves as in the world but not of it. Transformation of society by participation in the temperance movement, suffrage movement, and antislavery movements, these believers generally understood themselves as having a sanctifying role in relation to the culture at large.[v]
Once given opportunity to recognize ourselves in such constructions and the challenge before us, Rev. Rigby moves into the major portions of this 112 page book expanding on and inter-relating the following passages of scripture to help us claim the kingdom, imagine the kingdom, and embody the kingdom.
Thy Kingdom come!" (The Lord's Prayer Matt 6:9-13)
What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. (Proverbs 14:34)
Examples of key concepts are plentiful throughout the book. Memorably, she describes her two children playing at their play kitchen one making pretend eggs for the other. Following his parents' example, the older brother instructs his little sister to not touch the hot stove and to blow on the hot egg to cool it. In cooking, giving, watching, receiving, both children receive joy, and social righteousness is promoted. And the Kingdom of God is brought a little closer to earth, as it is in heaven[vi]. Because each page contains a wealth of scripture and theology, ishelpful to savor each idea and ponder the included study questions. Small groups would enjoy this book.
[i] Promotion of Social Righteousness, Rigby, Cynthia L., ©2010 Witherspoon Press Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Louisville KY. p.2. [ii] Ibid., Appendix A, p. 113 [iii] Ibid., Appendix B, p. 1115 [iv] Ibid., p.2. [v] Ibid. p.2. [vi] Ibid., p.53. Return to top of page
By Kathleen Long BostromReviewed by Kristie Holland, December 2012When reading to my children, I always find it interesting to see what books and stories they will connect with.My audience on this particular evening was my 4 year old and my 8 year old.We snuggled in bed and pulled out the book.
Josie's Gift is a story of a young girl growing up during the Great Depression who is dealing with her family's first Christmas season after the loss of her father.While Josie wishes for a beautiful blue sweater she sees in a shop window, once she receives it on Christmas night, she realizes that getting what she wants doesn't fill the empty, hollow feeling.It's only when she has the chance to give that she again feels full.Her father's saying, "Christmas is not about what we want, it's about what we have" is a central theme in the book and one that Josie comes to realize the true meaning of.
Kathleen Long Bostrom tells the story in a way that allows you to really feel what Josie is going through and of course, beinga mother myself, I identified with what Josie's mother was going through, helping her children through this difficult time.The illustrations by Frank Ordaz are lifelike and really bring the characters to fruition.They give the characters an identity and in our case, really made them come alive for my children.
I was certain that my 4 year old wouldn't understand the book and while I think there were certainly parts that he didn't catch, it didn't stop him from asking me to read the book again the next evening.It's a story that truly tugs on your heartstrings and is inspirational.It provides teaching moments about the true meaning of Christmas and is enjoyable for both adults and children. Return to top of page
by Martin MartyReviewed by Perry G. Downs, November 2012
I suppose if one were to set out to write a biography of a book, Bonhoeffer's classic work would be a sound choice.Written during the last two years of his life, and smuggled by friends and sympathetic guards out of the Nazi prison in which he was being held, Bonhoeffer's works were edited into book form by his dear friend Eberhard Bethge.First published in Germany in the early1950's and first translated into English in 1953, the book has virtually taken on a life of its own, being republished countless times and in countless forms around the world.Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian and pastor, who studied both in Germany and at Union Theological Seminary in New York, returned to Germany to help in the resistance against Hitler and the Third Reich.He was arrested by the Gestapo in April of 1943 for plotting against Hitler, and executed in April of 1945, twenty days before the end of the war.His reflections on theology and religion while being held in the Tegel prison in Berlin have been widely read by startlingly diverse groups at different times and in different places.
With great care and obvious affection, Martin Marty tells the story of why these letters and papers have been read so much, and how they have been used in remarkably different ways.In such diverse settings as the civil rights movement in the United States, the antiapartheid campaigns in South Africa, the so-called "Death of God" movement, and even the East German Marxist project, appeal is made to Bonhoeffer's letters and papers as a means of shaping these movements.This biography of the book traces these and other uses of the volume, telling its remarkable impact on theological, political, and social thinking.Beginning with the birth of the book following the execution of Bonhoeffer, Marty traces how and where the book had influence and impact in such a diverse group of settings.From the first tentative publication by Bethge, to the current multiple publications hailing this work as a near classic, Marty tells the stories and struggles of the ongoing life of this remarkable set of reflections.Such topics as "religionless Christianity" and the place and role of Jesus in the post war era make Bonhoeffer's writings a prime fodder for contemporary thought and reflection.
The present volume is part of a larger series of biographies of classic books.Upcoming biographies will include The Bhagavad Gita, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Analects of Confucius, and Josephus's The Jewish War.Already published are The Tibetan Book of the dead and Augustine's Confessions.Readers who know Bonhoeffer's work especially will benefit from this careful study. Those who do not may be introduced to one of the most influential books of the second half of the 20th century, one whose influence continues to the present day. Return to top of page
by C. S. LewisReviewed by Brian K. Smith, October 2012
Miracles is perhaps one of Lewis' most theological and philosophical works, along with his The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, and the Problem of Pain.It is in fact an extended argument, carefully, logically and systematically written to demonstrate that the belief in Divine miracles is not only logical, but that the reasons people give to reject the belief in miracles are themselves founded on faulty logic and fallacies.And yet the book Miracles is not without its signature Lewis prose style and humor that we have all come to appreciate from his other books.In the midst of his carefully worded, researched, and reasoned argument the reader will find one of the most beautiful and spiritual descriptions of Christ's Incarnation, which Lewis calls the "Grand Miracle;" there is also a verylyrical description of Nature as created by God,and wonderfully described explanations of all of Christ's miracles.This is a book that can be read on many levels; as a scholarly, philosophic comprehensive argument for miracles and against Naturalism (nature is all there is), Pantheism (everything is a part of God) and skepticism; or one can read parts of it as a Bible study commenting on the miracles of Jesus. But it is, first and foremost, a defense, an apologetic, for the very possibility of miracles.
The book is as relevant today as it was in 1947 (one chapter was revised in 1960) when it was written.We too live in a world where it is considered ignorant, primitive and unscientific to believe in miracles.We today need some logical 'ammunition' to share with our current skeptics that miracles happened and happen.That the God of the universe still steps into creation and changes things in order to bring glory to God's self.
Miracles, which Lewis defines as "...an interference with Nature by a supernatural power" are not a breaking of the laws of nature as some have described, but rather a Divine interference with nature while still preserving the natural order.Contrary to the popular view that miracles break the laws of nature, Lewis shows that miracles work in harmony with nature's laws and not against them; as Lewis says, "miraculous wine still intoxicates, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy . . . miraculous bread will still be digested."But all miracles must be weighed, Lewis shows, against the Grand Miracle of Christ's Incarnation.The incarnation is the standard against which all miracles must be measured.
A must read for all Christians who try to live in a post-modern world that finds the very idea of miracles incredible, and finds Christians foolish to believe in them.This book will supply the reader more than enough material to give them "a reason for the hope that is in you." I Peter 3:15. Return to top of page
by Kara E. Powell and Chap ClarkReviewed by Myrna Ulanday, June 2012
Sticky Faith is a wonderful resource for parents, grandparents, or adults who want to help nurture and build lasting faith in the lives of their children and youth as they transition into young adulthood. In this book, the authors discuss the findings from a research project by the Fuller Youth Institute as to why youth abandon their faith once they leave home and why faith 'sticks' for others. The authors offer excellent practical suggestions, including activities and practices to teach our children about faith and help develop in them the kind of faith that sticks as they venture out on their own in college and beyond. This book encourages parents/adults to begin open conversation of faith with their children, thereby facilitating the development and their ability to comprehend their true identity in Christ; to understand the importance of other relationships in our youth's lives; to teach them about service as an expression of one's faith; and to help our children see the process of learning to trust God. This book also challenges us as we seek to define what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and what authentic trust in God looks like in our lives for our children to see, so they too can live out this faith in their lives. Whether you have young children or older teens to young adults, it is never too late to build lasting faith in them because faith is a lifelong process. Return to top of page
by Karen ArmstrongReviewed by Roberta Carter, May 2012
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life isa small, yet powerful work by Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun, who left the order to study literature at Oxford University and proceeded to write some of today's most profound and original works on various world religions, including: The Bible: A Biography, A History of God, and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World.
This current work is the result of a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) grant of $100,000. Armstrong hoped to "build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem . . . Each [religion] has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule: always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody-even your enemies."
She proceeded to create a Charter for Compassion with the help of "leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths" which would "restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life. The charter would counter the voices of extremism, intolerance and hatred."
This 12-step book is a practical approach to this endeavor. It covers such subjects as learning about compassion, empathy, compassion for one's self, and loving one's enemies. Return to top of page
by Martha Grace ReeseReviewed by Judy Beinlich, April 2012
This book by Martha Grace Reese, an ordained pastor, provides an engaging 40-day all-church study and thought provoking personal prayer journal. It is one of a series of three books that came to be as a result of a national four-year study on evangelism in mainline churches.
Reese explains why she believes many mainline churches are not doing specific evangelism today, but she also shares many examples of church families whose members are quite comfortable sharing their faith. Descriptive scenarios of the many different churches in the study keep the reader engaged while providing personal food for thought.
In Reese's own words, her book is about "untying the knots that keep us from living exciting lives in the Spirit." This book focuses on helping us realize what we need to do so that we can truly move forward in helping people we care about build a vital relationship with God. Through daily prayer, Scripture readings, journaling, and focused exercises, Unbinding Your Heart helps readers discover powerful ways to let the Spirit guide them as they share their faith. Return to top of page