Book Reviews

Short Reviews – A Review of My Recent Reading List (2019 – 2nd Quarter)

On the right side of this blog, I provide my current reading list. While I often read other books simultaneously, my goal each quarter is to read one book from each of the “steps” that help me fulfill my strategy which is comprised of the acrostic LEARN.* I thought it might be helpful to share a few insights from my reading. Please note, this is not a formal review, but I will state if I recommend the read. My goal here is to simply provide a few key insights from each book.

*Someday I will do an update on that series on this new site, but you can find my original series at the old blog host. – See the series Using the 4L’s in 2017.

Christian Higher Education edited by David Dockery

This book is a collection of essays about higher education from the Christian realm. The book begins with a historical and theological overview of education throughout the centuries. The middle section explains how the various academic disciplines and faith can be (and should be) integrated. The final section shares implications for the integration of faith and learning. Overall, the book is helpful in considering the importance of the development and future of Christian education in the institutional setting – a setting that is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christians, in general.

Key Takeaway: Any discipline can still be approached from the perspective of faith, but the approach must often be indirect and/or discreet. However, God still has people placed in key positions who are, and will continue, to make a difference for His Kingdom.

Recommendation: Low (unless you are in higher education, then Strong)

Didn’t See It Coming by Carey Nieuwhof

Over the past several months, I have begun to look at Nieuwhof as a coach from a distance. I know some in my faith tradition may question me for this, but Nieuwhof’s background as a pastor and his desire to lead is quite similar to mine. Additionally, we are very near in age and in our stage of life so I have a stronger sense of connection with him in that regard. This book is extremely helpful for pastors and leaders alike as it encompasses various traps we are all prone to fall into if we are not careful. Traps such as cynicism, irrelvance, pride, burnout, and others are included in this book. From the few I mentioned in that previous sentence, the book could be helpful to virtually anyone, but those who are in positions of leadership should particularly consider this book.

Key Takeaway: Many chapters contained pertinent warnings for me, but I particulary enjoyed the chapter on irrelevance (which surprised me). The chapter was one of the best chapters of any book I have read – and touched me deeply as I approach age 50. I will not say more, but hope I have encouraged you to consider reading it.

Recommendation: Strong – best book this quarter

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff

If you read my reviews from the 1st Quarter, you will know how much I enjoyed Love Does. This book, which is Goff’s sequel, is very good as well. Goff is a very good story teller and weaves important life principles into the stories. This book was particularly powerful near its conclusion as Goff shared a story about a boy and a witch doctor in Uganda over several chapters. Although, I appreciate the quick stories and their related principles chapter over chapter in both books (this book and Love Does), as Goff shared this particular story over several chapters, the reader can see the change that love can make over time. The book was encouraging and inspiring and I highly recommend it.

Key Takeaway: We need to dare to live and love rather than simply choose to exist, limited by fear. The story of Charlie (a young boy from Uganda) and Kabi (a witch doctor in Uganda) and the courage of Bob, Charlie, and others is truly inspiring.

Recommendation: Strong

Neighborhood Mapping by Dr. John Fuder

This book was the most practical book I read this quarter. The chapters are very short and have a decent amount of information condensed into a nice package, however, it is the application and case studies that bring true effectiveness to the book. The book has principles that can be applied in most any ministry setting. The setting for the examples was largely from a larger city and thus many adaptations must be made for a small town. However, the ideas contained in the book do provide a good methodology for understanding the community surrounding a church.

Key Takeaway: The formula developed by Leith Anderson is good. The formula is:

Goal: D + Rx + HW + PG = Changed Community

Where D = Diagnosis, Rx = Prescription, HW = Hard Work, and PG = Power of God. The formula does not relegate the PG to the end due to importance; rather, it is recognized that God’s power must be present throughout the entire formula, which is clearly stated on page 28. In any event, the formula is very helpful for those who want to change their community.

Recommendation: Strong, but context will make a difference

Church Revitalization From the Inside Out by Robert D. Stuart

Stuart’s book was recommended to me shortly after I finished my dissertation as I considered writing a book (someday that may happen). An important idea in my dissertation was the internal impact of the church on her own development. Stuart addresses a similar issue and provides several areas of concern for struggling churches and ideas to counter those concerns. The book challenges attitudes of the church as well as pushing the leadership. Although some terminology relates to the Presbyterian model for ministry, the idea should not prevent any pastor or denominational leader from finding value in helping to revitalize churches within their denomination. The book is far more practical than it is theoretical, which is important in the area of revitalization.

Key Takeaway: During a quarter in which I had back issues and had more opportunity to read and listen to books than usual, I was particularly struck by the chapter on “The Bookworm Pastor.” I do love to read and would read more if I could, but Stuart’s chapter is a reminder to be engaged with others, not just with books.

Recommendation: Strong

Other Books:

Due to a back injury and some extra driving due to the flooding in our area, I had more time to read (back injury) and listen (driving) than I usually do. Thus, I completed a few more books than I had expected. I will not include a full review of each as they were not my primary intent, but I will leave a sentence or two about each.

The Missional Leader by Alan J Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk (read)

I started this book several years ago, and with the extra time this month, I decided it was time to finish it. The book is ultimately about changing the mindset of a church to become missional, but it provides good advice on how to do it – including doing it slowly. Most churches are resistant to change which should lead to an extended time of communicating the need for change and getting their buy-in through short-term experiments. The sharing of the Missional Change Model (p 105) is very helpful. One significant drawback is that the website mentioned in the book is no longer functional.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (listen)

In my recent string of biographies and historical study, I have focused on the 18th Century and early 19th Century, primarily in America. As I currently listen to the biographies of our Founding Fathers, I was eager to learn more about Hamilton, especially with Chernow being the author. Hamilton was not perfect, but he was an absolute genius. His forward thinking is still at the heart of our banking systems (he is on the $10 bill for a reason) and influenced much of our movement to an industrial economy rather than one which relies on agriculture. Again, Hamilton had flaws, and Chernow handles these reasonably well. But Hamilton was a giant and deserves more positive recognition than some are willing to give.

Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times by Joel Richard Paul (listen)

What Hamilton was to the federal government (and especially the banking system), Marshall was to the early courts. His tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the longest to date (over 34 years as CJ), but more importantly was his influence on the early court. Marshall shaped much of the law in early America and did so with a personality and influence that made most of the decisions of the Court nearly unanimous (which is unheard of now – and the contention between parties was no less significant in his day). Marshall’s viewpoints did not always stay within the bounds of the Constitution as written, which is also an argument that exists today, but he was very principled and stood against some of the giants of the day such as Jefferson (a cousin), Madison, and Jackson, among others.

Deep Work by Cal Newport (listen)

Deep Work has been on my radar for a few years now, but I simply had not had the time to read it. Having read (listened) to it, I see why it made such a fuss. Newport shares examples from his own life and that of others, and provides specific insights on how to carve out time to go deep. My initial reading of this book has prompted some change, but I need to review it again to determine where I can glean more insight. (One of the reasons I typically listen to biographies while driving is because I cannot take sufficient notes.)

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (listen)

This book was very enlightening. For instance, I had no idea of the reason Facebook added the “Like” button. As a business major originally, what a company does for the consumer will have benefit for the company, but some of what Newport shares in this book was fascinating. Forgoing social media is one solution offered, but Newport does not necessarily suggest a full removal of all social media (although he has not had an account), rather, the true purpose of the book is to help the consumer be aware of possible dangers and to help his readers be intentional in their selection of social media tools and how they use them. This book is highly recommended and I need to review it again myself. And soon.

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