The God Walker: a book review

What happens when a Christian publisher with charismatic, evangelical, Anglican roots embarks on a Catholic pilgrimage? Tony Collins (of Monarch Books and Lion Hudson) took a month and two days to walk from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to the west coast of Spain, the city of Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino de Santiago is four-hundred-and-ninety mile journey across the hills of Northern Spain. In Taking My God for a Walk, Collins recounts the journey—sharing his reflections on pilgrimage and the people and places he met along the way.

walkingThe book provides a chronology of Collins’s pilgrimage, each chapter, a journal entry of a days or two’s walk, recounting the sights, sensations and encounters. He relays the hardness of the path, his conversations with fellow pilgrims and the way made by walking. This is a travelogue describing Collins three-fold journey: a journey of cultural discovery of the sights, tastes and culture of Northern Spain, a historic journey into the politics and demographics of the region, and spiritual journey undertook to seek ‘sources of reverence'(17-18). He meets God on the pilgrim road and is profoundly impacted by this journey.

I was interested in this book because the pastor of the church I am attending, recently came back from the Camino and came back with fascinating stories about her journey (which made their way into many sermon illustrations). Collins walked the same path. He weaves his theological musings with descriptions of towns and countryside, and particular interest in the friends forged along the way. 

I enjoyed reading about Collins reflections on life and faith, his embarrassment (early on) of the impropriety of having a traveling companion called his ‘girlfriend,’ the ways he braved boredom and bed bugs as he sought out the gifts of the journey. I enjoyed the book without necessarily finding it a compelling read. I found I could only read it in fits and starts. I don’t think this Collins fault. He is a good writer, witty, observant,insightful. But pilgrimage unfolds circumspectly. He walks the way of St. James and meets God in the walking and at the culmination of his journey. I give this book three and a half stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review. Monarch Books is an imprint of Lion Hudson and is distributed by Kregel in the United States.

God Wants to Talk to You: a ★★★★★ book review.

His sheep know his voice. John 10:4 tells us that; yet many of us struggle to discern God’s voice in the midst of daily life. Samuel Williamson, founding director of Beliefs of the Heart, has written a helpful guide to hearing God’s voice everywhere.Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere helps us cultivate our curiosity and attention to the ways in which God speaks to us.
Williamson begins with a story of hearing God’s voice when he was just a 9780825444241ten-year-old, newly minted atheist. When God didn’t strike down his girlfriend Diane for cussing, Williamson lost  his faith. So he started his own experiment with profanity and living like God wasn’t there. God simply said, “Sam, I’m real, and you don’t understand” (24). Williamson was brought back to faith.  While this experience is unique to him, Williamson believes we all have a capacity to hear God’s voice. He relates the various ways people hear God. In his second chapter Williamson argues that the point of God speaking is less about directions from on high (though He is still God) and more about conversation. God wants to connect and commune with us. Williamson uses the analogy of learning sailing from his dad and the casual conversations that would spring up organically as a result (35-36).

But Williamson is also an evangelical. He gives pride of place to the Bible. Williamson wants us to read our Bibles, but not as a maintenance manual or a rule book but as an opportunity to encounter the living God. We read to commune with the living God. So he offers scriptural meditation (focusing on the one book where God clearly spoke) as a way to train ourselves to hear God’s voice, “The best way to  become familar with God’s voice is to meditate on his Word, just as the best way to spot a counterfeit is to spend lots of time with the real thing” (61).

Along the way Williamson has lots of practical advice for listening prayer: how to recognize God, how to hear God’s voice for others,  hearing God’s voice in the silence, and detours of life, the place of emotions, etc. Williamson opens up about his own journey of God. He shares childhood stories of learning to hear God’s voice,  awkward words that God gave him for others (or about others),  and his process of discerning God’s call to leave a stable career with a software company to pursue full time ministry. He suggests brainstorming with God (journaling) and listening to ‘God’s questions’ in the Bible as ways to press into a deeper relationship with God.

What distinguishes Williamson’s book from some treatments of listening prayer is how down-to-earth he is. He shares stories and anecdotes with good humor (occasionally this is a bit distracting).  Two appendixes address the arguments against listening prayer by some conservative evangelicals and those ‘questionable and excessive practices.’ There are other good books on this theme (notably, Joyce Huggett’s Listening to God and Brad Jersak’s Can You Hear Me?, Dallas Willard’s Hearing God). Williamson own influences in writing include Oswald Chambers, C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard and Tim Keller (22). He makes a strong and helpful contribution to the topic of hearing God. The best thing I can say about a book on prayer is that it makes me want to pray. This book certainly makes want to do that.

Five stars. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Note: I received this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review

What to Do When God Goes Old Testament: a book review

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have argued that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster, ‘the most unpleasant character in all of fiction’ (15). Many Christians also struggle with the portrait of God they find in its pages, assuming He is more wrath than mercy, and more law than grace. But is this an accurate picture of the God we find in the Old Testament? How do we read the Old Testament faithfully as scripture in light of difficult passages?

9780825443763Renowned Old Testament Scholar Walter Kaiser walks us through some of the difficulties. A short book, reminicent of his Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (IVP 1988), Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament tackles some of the thorniest questions that plague readers of the Old Testament. These include:

  • Is the God of the Old Testament a God of Love or a God of wrath and judgement?
  • Is He the God that ordered the Canaanite genocide or a God of peace?
  • Is He a God of truth or deception?
  • Is He the God of creation or evolution?
  • A God of grace or law?
  • Does He approve of polygamy?
  • Does God rule over Satan or must he overcome him in battle?
  • Is God Omniscient or does he limit his knowledge of the future to guard human freedom like the Open Theists posit?
  • Does the Old Testament subordinate women or give them equal status and authority?
  • What about food laws?

Kaiser surveys the relevant texts and gives a reasoned defense of God’s goodness, God’s mercy and God’s sovereignty.   Kaiser is a Reformed evangelical and gives a scriptural-based response to each quesiton. Given that this is a relatively short book, some of his responses were perhaps too brief for a skeptic or serious scholar; however the general reader (and even the skeptic and serious student) will find plenty to chew on and some direction on where to dig deeper.

Kaiser is an adept reader of Hebrew scripture and I found many of his answers compelling.  He points out that God’s anger and wrath are related to his care for us and His kindness and mercy are more central to who he is (24-25).  In general Kaiser asserts the traditional evangelical positions (i.e. Creationism is incompatible with evolution,  Open Theism is wrongheaded), but his chapter on women is fairly egalitarian.  His chapter on the law challenges the anti-nomianism of dispensationalism on the one hand and theonomy on the other.

My own love for the Old Testament was stoked by a former pastor who had been a student of Kaiser’s at Gordon Conwell.  I have even had the privilege of hearing Kaiser preach. When I went to seminary I pressed into the Old Testament and wrestled with many of the issues that Kaiser presents here. I read this book with interest but I was clearly not his target audience. Kaiser wrote this book for people who find the Old Testament difficult and are not quite sure what to do with it. He is a good guide. I don’t agree with him on every point and would answer some questions differently than he, but I appreciate the way he thoughtfully engages the Bible and seeks to interpret the text faithful to the God he serves. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.


Interpreting the Sticky Pages: a book review

The prophets don’t get the air play that the rest of Scripture does. Isaiah gets rolled out for the holidays, Daniel is featured at at every End Times conference, Jeremiah is selectively quoted, but by and large the prophetic literature is left untouched. No ‘Book of the Twelve’ on a Sunday morning because the church does not serve Minors!  Those who do try to delve into the prophets are often left confused about historical context. genre, and application.

Gary Smith is a Old Testament scholar and commentator who has dug deeply and discovered the treasures that await us in the Prophets. In Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook (part of Kregel’s ‘Handbooks For Old Testament Exegesis’ series) Smith walks us through the process of interpreting the prophets well. The book is designed especially for students who are working with biblical languages, but the working pastor whose Hebrew is gone with the ruach, will find this a fairly accessible guide.

Smith begins in chapter one by discussing the nature of prophetic literature. Distinctive features include the temporal categories in prophecy (prophecies describing present events, prophecies about a future era, and the apocalyptic/symbolic). Smith also describes the genres of prophecies and the poetic parallelism within the prophetic literature. Chapter two explores the primary themes of each book. Chapter three identifies the things you will need for interpreting the prophets wisely. These include knowing the historical setting of each book (and Smith provides a brief overview of the pre-exilic prophets of Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets and post-exiilic), prophecy in the Ancient Near East context, awareness of text critical issues, and the best commentaries and resources at your disposal.

Chapter four is where the fun starts. Smith discusses various interpretive issues related to the prophetic literature. Including: are prophecies literary or metaphorical? Are they limited by context? Are they conditional or unconditional? Are they about the near or the far future? How the New Testament authors interpret the prophets and is their method legitimate for us? Chapters five and six describe the exegetical process for interpreting the prophets. Chapter five walks through how to ‘proclaim the text’ (interpreting with an eye for the central principle and application). Chapter six lays out a method which integrates all the earlier chapters.

I don’t expect exegetical handbooks to be exciting reading. There is too much method and too little metaphor, by the nature of the format. However I found Smith’s discuss of themes, historical backgrounds and interpretive issues to be highly interesting. I will likely refer back to this book the next time I preach or teach on the prophets. That will likely be when I roll out Isaiah for the holidays. Oh and other times to, because I really like the prophets. I think it is sad that we don’t aquatint ourselves with them more. Maybe with Smith’s guide we will. I give it four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Freshly Expressed: a book review

First there was missional. Then there was the emergent resurgent insurgence, organic church, liquid church, free range church, new monasticism, the new parish and the New Kids. We are always on the hunt for the latest way to be church in ways that engage neighborhoods and culture. Michael Moynagh conducts research at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford for Fresh Expressions UK. He is an advocate of the ‘fresh expressions’ of church (UK speak for missional?).  He examines ‘witnessing communities’ in the UK  and around the globe. With over 120 examples of Fresh Expression Witnessing Communities,his book, Being Church and Doing Life,  explores the creative ways that Christians have sought to connect the gospel to everyday life.

Moynagh’s book is divided into three parts. Part one explores the reasons why have ‘communities in life’ (i.e. churches that meet in pubs, laundry mats, etc.). Part two explores the ‘tools’ necessary for developing witness communties (practices, disciplines, and approaches). Part three explores the tools (organization, leadership, networks and structures) for the wider church. Each section (and chapter) are full of stories of on the ground practitioners who are reaching out in creative ways.  Alan Hirsch ( Author of The Forgotten Ways, The Shaping of Things to Come). This is very much a book written with the missional impulse and a desire to participate in God’s Kingdom coming.

The stories of what other churches (witnessing communities) are doing is the best part of this book. It is always exciting to find out what churches are doing. This is an ‘idea book’ for brainstorming what church could look like in my context. Of course these ‘witnessing communities’ are highly contextualized so are not necessarily reproducible. Still I appreciate some clues to what’s possible.  I also really appreciated the emphasis on relationship. I was reminded of Rodney Stark’s thesis in The Rise of  Christianity, that the early Church grew exponentially by enfolding seekers into their social networks. This is the principle I see at play in witnessing communities. The intentional relationality of this approach means that these ‘witnessing communities’ are fostering meaningful connections with their neighbors.

I do wonder if smaller, contextual communities are too self selecting. A lot of the examples seem to focus around ‘lifestyle’ groups. I wonder if this is too homogeneous. I also wish that this book had a more explicit theological grounding. What this book advocates for is creative relational building with neighbors and friends, but Moynagh spends far less time rooting this biblically.  A few times I wondered what the content of the gospel proclamation was in a few of the witnessing communities he cited.

Yet there is real value in a book of this kind. I recommend this book for people dreaming of new ways of being church and churches interested in a more robust form of life sharing. Moynagh has profiled some interesting stuff. Four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Publications and Monarch Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

40 Days of Grace: a book review

While I occasionally review devotional literature, I am not really a ‘devotional guy.’ This is especially true of the 40 day journey variety. Admittedly, I can lack the consistency and stick-to-itiveness to complete the ‘whole 40 days.’ I also have bad memories of being dragged through the 40 days of Purpose (twice).  My big issue is that I find devotional books somewhat shallow. I’d rather pick up the Bible, and maybe a good commentary and study something. So it was with a little bit of apprehension that I began Rich Miller’s 40 days of Grace. Except I did it in like 32. I’m not bragging or anything, I’m just letting you know I did it all wrong.

Miller is the president of Freedom in Christ Ministries, USA, an organization founded by Neil Anderson (Miller has also  co-written several books with Anderson).  Miller is the sole author of these devotions; however the book is designed to be used in concert with The Grace Course, a DVD curriculum featuring Steve Goss and Rich Miller (although it can also be enjoyed separately).

Miller’s six week (5 weeks, and 5 day) journey explores the different facets of Grace. The first week is devoted to describing what grace is, how amazing it is, and how good and gracious God is for giving us a gift we do not deserve. The following weeks expand on how  God’s grace ministers to various parts of our soul. God’s grace in Christ deals decisively with our sin and guilt (week 2), our shame (week 3), our fears (week 4), and our pride (week 5). The final five days are devoted to exhorted us to live the “Grace-rest life.”

Miller writes these devotional reflections with wit, insight and good humor.  My initial impression of this book was that it was overly basic. But there are many ways where we can ‘get grace’ intellectually yet still fail to live it out. Miller’s Mission) is to get us to understand experientially what we have been given in Christ, and help us to flourish as a result. This is a good goal, and sometimes a ‘back to the basics’ approach is good for the soul.  However, I think that I would recommend this more for new Christians than seasoned saints.  That isn’t to say that this book didn’t also make me hunger for a deeper, richer experience of God’s grace in my own life.  I loved that Miller is not content to leave his description of grace as God’s gift of salvation from sin.  By tracing the way Grace sets captives free (from sin, guilt, shame, fear, pride), Miller points us to a more grace-full life.

This was better than my previous 40 Day journeys (even if I got done eight days early).  Of course Miller doesn’t say everything about grace (anymore than Rick Warren speaks comprehensively about the purposes of God). What he does say here, is generally biblical, thoughtful and personally enriching. I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

From time to time I get kids’ books for review from Christian publishers. My Very First Noah and the Ark Sticker Book is an activity book aimed at children 3 to 5.  Being as I have a daughter smack dab in the middle of that I thought it would be a fun book to review.


This is a kids’ book so it is pretty basic in its biblical description.  Still for teaching children the broad contours of Noah’s Ark, this is a fun way to learn.  Kids will enjoy putting stickers on the page (completing the pictures) and attempting the various activities. Kids will enjoy this book. There is also a matching activity and instructions for a  gingerbread ark.

My adult critical perspective on childrens’ literature thinks that this book could be more focused on proclaiming God’s character and grace. But as I’ve said before, I appreciate anything that helps to get the Bible into my kids and this is a fun way to do it.

Thank you to Kregel  for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.