Book Reviews

Short Reviews – A Review of My Recent Reading List (2021 – 1st Qtr)

On the right side of this blog, I provide my current reading list. Usually, the reading list (and these short reviews, relate directly to my strategy which is comprised of the acrostic LEARN.* However, I am in the process of developing and teaching some new classes (for me) as well as being in the process of “upgrading” my doctorate. Therefore, I continue to put my usual reading schedule on hold to focus on the books (and work) related to that process. And due to my schedule, I have not read as many books this quarter (and probably will not in the second quarter either, but hopefully I will return to my usual pace soon. So, this review is based (mostly) on those books.

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.

*See the recent series on this blog about developing a personal SYSTEM for details. The series started June 26th, 2020 and ended October 2nd, 2020.

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

One of the challenges in ministry is finding time to be who God wants us to be. It has been said that ministry can kill a minister’s relationship with Jesus. Or, as is more commonly said, we can be so busy doing ministry that we don’t have time to minister. In this book, Nouwen challenges the reader in three areas, each with three sub-points. We are challenged to move from relevance to prayer, from popularity to ministry, and from leading to being led. Each area then proceeds to share the temptation, to ask a question, and to share a discipline to overcome the challenge. It is a book that reminds us of our need to be, before we do. It is very short, but it is very good, and I highly recommend it.

Key Takeaway: When we think of simply “being” we might think that a book about it would be theoretical. For instance, a book on productivity likely has some concrete items for us to integrate in order to be more productive. This book is the opposite of how to be productive (in the usual sense), but is nonetheless very practical. It challenges the modern mindset to the core, and that is needed for everyone who wants to truly know and serve Jesus, particularly in the 21st Century.

Recommendation: Very strong. This book is right at 100 pages, but it is as easy to read as many children’s book (with a natural font and large margins). Despite the ease in which it can be read, the concepts are challenging in a very good way, and will make you think long after you put it down.

Lead Like Jesus: Revisited by Ken Blanchard, Phil Hodges, Phyllis Hendry

Lead Like Jesus is an updated version that greatly expands on the earlier version. This book discusses habits that all leaders should have/develop. The book is divided into seven parts covering leadership from a biblical perspective and next steps for the leader. In between these sections, we see the Being Habits and Doing Habits which cover the heart, hands, and head of a great leader. The book is practical and is a nice complement to the Nouwen book above.

Key Takeaway: Seeing the “habits” delineated by the head, the heart, and the hands is a very effective way to share Jesus’ approach to living and leading. As someone whose masters and doctoral work relates to education, I appreciate how the authors use the three domains to construct their argument. Taking time to consider which of the Being Habits and Doing Habits is a weakness for me at this time was a healthy exercise in the middle of this season of my life.

Recommendation: Strong. I really this book, and it is “better” than the Nouwen book, but I really see these two as a two-piece set with Nouwen’s book setting the table for this one.

Prayer by John Onwuchekwa

I know a lot of people are 9Marks diehards. I am not. I find their resources excellent. I really do. But I am not waiting for the next resource to arrive, nor do I feel the need to read another book after I have finished one that I may be reading. But the resources are excellent. Onwucheckwa’s book on prayer is no exception. The book takes a very practical look at the model prayer Jesus taught us to pray (i.e. The Lord’s Prayer) and Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then shows the importance of prayer in general and in community (providing over 20 instances of prayer from the book of Acts), sharing how those prayers were a part of instigating a movement that is still ongoing. As with most of the 9Marks resources, it is a short book, but no words are wasted, and the reader interested in knowing more about prayer, and wanting to be challenged to pray better (and lead their church to pray more) will not be disappointed.

Key Takeaway: I have studied the Lord’s Prayer at some length, but I had not truly considered the temporary nature of the prayer. One day, we will not pray for food, for forgiveness, for deliverance, or even for the Kingdom to come. All of those ideas, and so much more will be realized, and the prayer will be needed no longer.

Recommendation: Very strong. I have used this short book to lead a group to consider how our church can re-focus our efforts on prayer, and will recommend the book to others.

Other Books I Completed This Quarter:

The Myth Of Equality by Ken Wytsma (Audible)

After a tumultuous 2020, one of the goals I had was to gain a better understanding of the challenges that race places in our society. I have researched a few books to help lead me through that journey and this was the first one I read (heard). I did not realize all of the author’s background when I chose this book first (I wanted to read these books with as few preconceived ideas as possible), but appreciated that he was both a pastor, and was white. I do not care that the author is white (I truly did not know), but it takes courage to write about racial injustice from the perspective of a white person in America. The book is almost exclusively focused on the inequalities of blacks (i.e. not other minorities), but it does show how racial injustice was embedded in America from the beginning and how the creation of policies continued well into the 20th Century, which means we are still impacted by them today (whites being impacted from a standpoint (and mindset) of privilege and minorities impacted in various negative ways).

Key Takeaway: Wytsma’s discussion of righteousness was refreshing. I (We) may know that righteousness is more than we think or know, but he clearly shares that our righteousness is revealed by how we live, which obviously includes how we treat others, regardless of race.

Recommendation: Strong. Wytsma’s book was good, and necessary. He does not set out to cover injustice against all minorities, but given his pastoral background, I believe he could have focused more attention there. I do recommend the book, but would not make it the only book on the subject to read.

The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby (Audible)

Whereas Wytsma’s book served as a solid appetizer, addressing both practical issues and theological insights to the issue of race in America, Tisby’s book is a convicting look at some of the gory details resulting from racism in America. This book traces racism from colonial times to the present day and appears to be well-researched. (I say “appears to be” in a complementary tone, meaning any information included is also at the editor’s discretion, but the examples the author shares do not appear to be necessarily biased; rather, the examples are representative of a great issue…one in which admittedly, my knowledge is limited).

In the previous paragraph, I used the word gory because in parts the stories included details that were very unpleasant. Unfortunately, I have no reason not to believe their accuracy, and that acts themselves are far more offensive than are the details that describe the acts. The worst part of this book is not the contents of the book; it is the subject. And the subject is not racism per se, and it is not whites who were/are racist. No, the true subject of the book is the church that has shown itself to be racist since the inception (or really before the inception) of this country. The Color of Compromise is about the explicit (sometimes) and complicit (mostly) nature of the church in America as it relates to racism. Of course, people may argue that Tisby had an agenda, but the truth is that any writer does. But I thank Tisby for writing this book – not for the history it represents, but for the challenge it offers to us for the present and the future. Although we all have different (and unique) callings, no one who loves Christ, who tore down the dividing wall of hostility (a verse about racism in its own way, Ephesians 2.16), should stand for the racism reported throughout this book. Unfortunately, it is those who have acted “for God” who have committed some of the greatest atrocities.

Key Takeaway: The persistent nature of the church in its complicity to racism in America. And one particular instance of a lynching and what happened to her unborn child is horrific beyond belief. To think the church even might be involved is sickening. To know that the church has been involved in many such incidents is beyond disheartening.

Recommendation: Very strong. Tisby presents a picture of racism that the true Church Jesus promised to build cannot ignore. We cannot change the past, but what will we do about the future?

The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (Audible)

It used to be said that if you read three books on a subject, you could be considered an expert. Well, I have read somewhere around 20-25 books now on the mid to late 18th Century in America, but I do not yet feel like an expert. I have also been through an extended study of the French Revolution, but I had not read a book on Lafayette until now. In truth, my wife loves Daveed Diggs’ portrayal in Hamilton, and had planned to listen with me, but eventually chose not to, so I finally completed this book.

Much of the book is about his youth and young adulthood in America. Another significant portion takes us into the early parts of the French Revolution. In fact, my guess is that 80-90% of the book covers approximately 15-20 years of Lafayette’s life, with that last 35 years of this life covered in very quick fashion. The author provided some good details throughout the book, including how Lafayette was able to avoid the perils of so many leaders during the French Revolution, but also got bogged down in other areas. Not having done all of the research, I do not know what information is available for many of the “missing years,” but that is one reason I chose the book.

Key Takeaway: The reminder that Lafayette paid his own way to join the American Revolution.

Recommendation: Average. Overall, the book did add information to the collection in my brain, and reminded me on some ideas I had forgotten (like the fact he paid for his own trip to join the American Revolution). The book is good, but books on Washington (Chernow) and the American Revolution (such as 1776 by McCullough), and a good read about the French Revolution will give a lot more details of the day, and provide snippets of Lafayette, in the process. If you want more on Lafayette (like I did), this book does fill in some holes, but I am glad I listened to it, instead of actually reading it.

My 2nd Quarter (2021) reading list will be available on Thursday, April 1. Click on Reading List on the banner at the top of the blog’s home page and you can track with me what I am currently reading.

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