Book Blurbs

While I would like to be disciplined enough to write a thorough review of every book I read, I'm not. The books that really, really grab me and that I want other people to read, are usually the ones that I review. (Or, books that have to do with revival and therefore can be used by Heartcry! or Life Action Ministries, for whom I also write reviews). But there are those books that I read that may not particularly grab me, or that I may not particularly wish to recommend, or that may leave me unsure of what I think about them - and those books tend to fall through the cracks.

Well, I'm not going to write reviews of some of these books in my recent reading, but here are some blurbs. Just off the top of my head comments for whatever they are worth.

The Jesus I Never Knew - Philip Yancey.

I first read this book about nine or ten years ago and found it quite interesting. I picked it up again last month and did some spot reading and enjoyed it as much or more than the first time. Yancey does a good job of just helping you see what is there in the gospels. No, I don't agree with all of Yancey's theology, but this is a good book to read with discernment.

Velvet Elvis - Rob Bell

I posted some brief comments on this one a few months ago, with the intent of coming back around and writing a full review. It's not going to happen, I just don't have enough time or interest. But this is, in brief, what I thought. This book is provocative and well-written (and likeable for those reasons). You can't help but enjoy Bell with his edgy, self-consciously authentic, loose-cannon style. He raises some good questions about lots of things and makes you think outside the box, which is always good for me (and usually a bit uncomfortable). But he's also a bit careless. Some of his questions leave you with big questions about what he really thinks about some pretty important core doctrines. He's also unfair - in using analogies that misrepresent what a lot of good, solid theologians of a more traditional ilk really say or think. (If you've read it, the brick wall vs. trampoline analogy is a case in point.) Finally, he sends confusing signals. It boggles my mind that he give an unqualified recommendation of books by John Piper on one hand and makes positve, unqualified references to J. Dominic Crossan, on the other. That just seems careless to me. I can't imagine giving an unqualififed recommendation of something written by a member of the Jesus Seminar.

Who Was Jesus? - N. T. Wright

Wright's book does two things: (1) it condenses his own understanding of who Jesus is into something actually readable by a lay-person (the more thorough books are Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God, both multi-hundred page books; there is also a somewhat shorter book called The Challenge of Jesus) and (2) it critiques three recent attempted reconstructions of the historical Jesus - which turns his book into something of an extended review of three other books (by A. N. Wilson, Barbara Theiring, and John Shelby Spong). In Wright's typically whimsical prose, his critique is all at once charming, humorous, and scathing! Putting the two elements of the book together, it turns into a fairly good defense of a more "traditional" portrait of Jesus (i.e. affirming his messianic identity and bodily resurrection). Incidentally, while I read a lot of Wright, I don't agree with him on many things and don't recommend his books to uncritical readers. But this is one which I have few qualms with. Even D. A. Carson (one of Wright's more serious critics when it comes to his writings on Paul) said in a lecture that he had given away many copies of this book. So, if you're interested in reading something on "the historical Jesus," this isn't a bad place to start.

Tortured Wonders - Rodney Clapp

I loved this book and am sad that I ended up disagreeing with so much of it. The subtitle of this book "Christian Spirituality for People, not Angels" is what grabbed me and Clapp wonderfully develops this theme in warm, humorous, and humane ways. And that helped me. I liked the questions he raised and was impressed by his frequent grounding of his thinking in historic Christian orthodoxy (quoting from St Augustine more than anyone else). I liked how he grounded his initial thinking on our physicality in the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and resurrection, and how he disabuses his readers of ways of thinking about spirituality that are more in line with Gnosticism than Christianity. But I was disappointed with how he delt with some of his own questions and the direction of his answers (on such issues, for example, as homosexuality, the exclusivity of Christ, and eternal punishment). His wrong-headedness on these issues push his book off of my recommended reading list on to my "watch out - this could be dangerous!" list. Too bad. One more comment: Clapp is a wonderfully engaging writer - reminded me a lot of J. I. Packer with maybe a dash of Eugene Peterson thrown in.

God is the Gospel - John Piper

John Piper is my all-time favorite contemporary author. No book has impacted me as deeply as did his Desiring God. I still frequently drink from Piper's well and am refreshed. God is the Gospel is one of his latest books and is a good and passionate reminder that God himself is the best gift given to us in the gospel. This book is an important antidote to the me-ism and self-esteem-driven drivel that permeates so much contemporary pop Christian culture. This is also one of Piper's more exegetical books, with much extended reflection on Scripture. But it doesn't live up to his earlier books, at least not for me. The freshness and vitality that just course through Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, and Future Grace are not there. There is much less in terms of illustration and application. That original trilogy is just hard to beat. (The most recent book he has written that has a flavor of those three is When I Don't Desire God, which is probably his most practical book). God is the Gospel is good - but not Piper's best. So, if you've not read Piper, start with something older. Get some vintage Piper. Dive into Desiring God (don't settle for the abridgement - The Dangerous Duty of Delight - you'll miss way too much!). But if you're a long-time Piper reader, then don't skip this one (like you would!). It's worth the read.

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