“The Confession” by Robert Whitlow (a book review)

“The Confession” by Robert Whitlow is a story of an assistant district attorney, Holt Douglas, who has a secret regarding a tragic event that occurred when he was a teenager.  On one track, the “confession” is related to this secret and how Holt successfully buries the memory of the event for many years, until it ultimately comes to the forefront of his thinking and is too much to bear.  However, weaved throughout the story is a mystery regarding a death of a prominent man that had occurred, and the question of whether it was a suicide or a murder.  Most of the story is related to this mystery and the confession that results from the circumstances surrounding this death. 

I enjoyed this story because it showed conflicting emotions and complicated intentions when it came to both confessions in this story.  In both cases, there appeared to be good reason for the individuals involved to withhold the information rather than confess.  It also showed the ultimate feeling of freedom brought about by true confession. 

 I liked the characters in the book and it had enough twists and turns to make it an interesting story and enjoyable read.  However, I can’t say that the book was profound or extraordinarily memorable.  Therefore, I give this book a solid three stars. 

 ***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“Arms Open Wide” by Sherry Gragg (a Book Review)

“Arms Open Wide” by Sherry Gragg is an appealing book for several reasons.  It is a smallish devotional-type book that physically looks quite nice, with a hard cover and thick glossy paper.  In addition, the format of the book is concise.  It is a well-organized collection of familiar Bible stories about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Each chapter begins with an Old Testament scripture (often prophetic) related to the New Testament story covered in the chapter.  Before the author relays the story, she asks the reader to read the actual New Testament account of the story.  Then she interprets the Bible story as an “eye-witness account” with details that take into consideration the times and cultural background of that era.  Finally, each chapter ends with a short prayer related to the scripture covered. 

 

“Arms Open Wide” takes the reader through the ministry of Jesus, death, and resurrection in a logical manner that illuminates many of the major stories of the Gospels.  Some people do not like details being added to Scripture in this fictional-type of account.  However, the details added by the author are primarily to give a general idea of how it might have felt to witness the Biblical events.  The added details do not change or detract from the Bible account, and I did not detect any historical errors (although I am not an expert in this area).  

 

Truth be told, I am not particularly fond of devotional books.  However, this one is interesting and the writing is nice.  The stories as told by the author give some additional nuance to the Bible stories that many of us have read dozens of times.  But, I believe that the book would work best for a new Christian who may not know these stories well. It would be an especially appropriate gift to an individual who made a recent commitment to Christ.  The fact that the author directs the reader to the scripture first, heads off any concern that a new Christian might not know the fictional account from the true account.  Even so, the Bible stories as told by the author are very close to the scripture and do not add any theological or interpretive material that would change the meaning of the Bible stories. 

 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“Love, Skip, Jump” by Shelene Bryan (a Book Review)

In Love, Skip, Jump, the author, Shelene Bryan, tells the story of how she stepped out of her comfort zone and said “Yes” to God.   She initially made a trip to Africa to assure herself that a child she was sponsoring through a compassion program actually existed.  God used this action to transform the author’s life. Upon seeing the effects of severe poverty in Africa, Shelene felt compelled to do something about it.  She began a non-profit organization that encourages people to “skip” something from their daily life, and instead, use the money they would have spent to help impoverished children in dire need of the basic elements of survival. 

I liked Shelene’s testimony, her courage, her enthusiasm, and what she is doing through the Skip organization.  However, I had a hard time relating to the author and her particular story.  This was partly because she seems to minimize the fact that she was able to have such an impact because she is quite wealthy, has numerous connections with influential people, and is essentially a mover and a shaker.  She is also extremely extroverted (she often threw parties for “60 of her closest girlfriends” at the drop of a hat). 

 Shelene is ambitious, wealthy, caring, accomplished, and connected.   It seems that God made the author uniquely qualified to take on the type of task He provided for her to do, and Shelene has heeded the call with obedience.  However, her book tends to suggest that anyone can do what she has done.  I believe that we each have our own traits, experiences, talents, and temperaments that enable us to do the things God asked us to do. However, I do not think that everyone is called to do the type of extreme things that the author has done. 

In this genre of book (the type that tell us to do great things, get out of our comfort zone, and trust God to do mighty miracles), the thing that I have never seen acknowledged is an acceptance that some individuals are called to quiet contemplative lives, as scripture suggests (1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 5, 1 Peter 3).   If that was not so, how would the necessary daily tasks be accomplished in our neighborhoods, local churches, and communities.  If everyone were always looking for “the next big thing” to do, nobody would be content to do the simple daily good deeds necessary in all societies, rich or poor. 

I agree that we should all listen for God’s direction and move out of our comfort zone when called to do so.  However, I think it does a disservice to those who take on common daily tasks, on a consistent and reliable basis, to suggest that they are not being bold or accomplishing God’s will for their life.  The body of Christ is made up of all kinds.  I love that we have the Shalenes of the world.  But, I also am grateful for those who do the essential tasks of the local church and community, day in and day out, without the need for praise or acknowledgement.  These people often Love, Skip, and Jump in their own way. 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“No More Dragons” by Jim Burgen (a book review)

Some books start strong, make a great point, and then fade out or repeat the same point over and over. However, “No More Dragons” by Jim Burgen is not one of those books. In fact, I found the later chapters to be the most interesting, rewarding, and worthy of my time.

The first few chapters of “No More Dragons” tell an engaging story, but I found the author’s style to be a little too hip and folksy for my taste. The most glaring example of this was the use of the term “dragon” for people who have made bad life choices and who are usually condemned by society in general. Nonetheless, I continued to read so that I could review the book, and because the general message drew me in.

By the time I got to the chapter about the his wife’s story, I had warmed up to the book and found that Burgen was tackling some difficult subjects for Christians including how mental illness is viewed. He also addresses homosexuality, addiction, and ex-felons.

Another criticism I had, at first, was that the author seemed to be church-bashing—“if you don’t do church my way, your church is no good.” However, he addressed this criticism in a later chapter to my satisfaction. And, I enjoyed the “three story challenge” that he presented about situations that are becoming more common in churches today. I agreed with the way he handled them and the ultimate statement that “if dragons aren’t welcome in the church, where can they go for healing?”

But, my favorite chapter was the final chapter where the author tackles the subject of the balance between grace and truth within the church. I have often considered this dilemma in daily life, not just within a church setting. I found the insights and suggestions presented by Burgen to be helpful and thoughtful.

So, my recommendation is that if you start this book and are a little turned off by the breezy style or by preconceived ideas of where the author is going with his “dragon” analogy, continue reading. This book requires a complete reading before making a judgment as to its value and intent.  

 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“Raised?” by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson (a Book Review)

Was Jesus really raised from the dead, and if so, what effect has this had on history and on individuals? These are the questions that the authors, Dodson and Watson, address in their book “Raised?”

 The book is nicely organized into four sections: Doubting the Resurrection; How the Resurrection Reshapes History; Stepping into the Resurrection; and How the Resurrection Changes Everything. The first section provides an historical background of what the Greeks and the Jews believed about the afterlife, and why these groups questioned and/or rejected the idea of the resurrection. The authors then briefly review and rebut common arguments against, and refutations of, the resurrection of Jesus that have been proposed throughout history.    

 In the section about How the Resurrection Reshaped History, the authors discuss the fall of mankind (Adam), the fall of God’s chosen nation Israel (Abraham), and how God redeemed man and provided for a transformation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The last two chapters include discussions of faith, sin, and a new identity in Christ.

 “Raised?” provides a solid discussion of the issues noted above in a concise manner. However, as I read the book, I kept coming back to the question of who the best audience would be for a book such as this. The ideas developed are not new, and I believe that a mature Christian might read this quickly and get little out of the book. On the other hand, I do not think the chapters providing an argument to counter those who doubt the resurrection were strong enough to answer a true skeptic’s questions.

 Perhaps the book would work well for a relatively new Christian who believed, but could not provide a succinct reason for believing in the resurrection. The book is short and does not get bogged down in theory or philosophical argument, which is the strength in dealing with a difficult concept for a new believer.  

 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi (a book review)

Seek and ye shall find! Nobody was as shocked as Nabeel Qureshi, the author of “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” to discover that his search for truth would lead to Jesus rather than Allah or Mohammed.   This fascinating book describes Qureshi’s hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth, and how it slowly led him to Jesus, despite the pain of having to forsake the religion of his childhood, as well as his close relationships with his family and community.

It is also a story of David, his best friend, who engaged Nabeel in deep religious discussions that led to the undeniable conclusions regarding the truth of Christianity. In this regard, the book is not only an intriguing story of one man’s search for truth, but also a primer on Christian apologetics. As Nabeel asks difficult questions regarding Jesus and the Bible, David and other Christians must also search for answers to defend their faith.

This book also brings a wonderful perspective and understanding of individuals raised in non-violent Muslim sects. One cannot help but admire Qureshi’s parents, as well as have great empathy for them as they find that their cherished son is rejecting the Muslim faith that is truly their whole life. Qureshi also clearly distinguishes the different worldviews and mindsets of individuals brought up with an Eastern faith as opposed to Western faith.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this book as an autobiography, an apologetics lesson, and for the cultural contrasts it provides. This book was of the same genre and general format as “Unveiling Grace” by Lynn K. Wilder, in which the author describes leaving the Mormon faith because of the truth of the New Testament. These books provide personal testimonies of heroic decisions to follow truth, wherever it may lead. 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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“Futureville” by Skye Jethani (a book review)

In “Futureville,” the author, Skye Jethani, contends that the way individuals envision the future shapes the way they live their lives in the present.  He further contends that the way the church sees the future has a profound effect on how it goes about establishing a sense of purpose and dignity in individual Christians. 

Jethani sets forth three pathways to the future and shows how each of these affects the value the church places on works of individual members.  He states that there was a time in church history (which he labels as “evolution”) during which Christians believed that it was the duty of the church to bring about “Futureville.” This involved the duty to bring about ongoing progress toward social order, improvement, and transformation.  This was an optimistic era with an expectation of continual progression toward perfection. It emphasized cultural causes, with less emphasis on individual salvation. 

However, Jethani contends that in the early 20th Century, with the onset of world wars, Western civilization abandoned the vision of perpetual social progress.  This was replaced by a belief that “the world was deteriorating into moral and spiritual chaos.”  Christians began believing that God’s judgment was imminent.  At this point, rather than social activism, the church saw the primary goal as repentance and salvation.  Jethani labeled this pathway to the future as “evacuation.”  Evacuation mode was predicated on a view that nothing of this world is of any importance (other than saved souls) because it would be destroyed.

Jethani argues that both the evolution and evacuation pathways result in a hierarchy within the church that devalues the works of many Christians who are not in certain positions in the church.  He contends that the church unwittingly communicates that the works performed by those in an institutional church setting are superior to those of a Christian in a secular profession.  Instead, Jethani argues for a “resurrection” pathway to the future in which value is given based on a cultivation of order, beauty, and abundance in whatever a person’s present job or situation entails. 

I found the first two portions of the book, those describing evolution and evacuation, interesting and engaging.  The different views of the future and how they affect individual’s actions in the present was thought provoking.  I also found the idea that Western civilization has changed in the view over time to be intriguing.  However, I was not fully persuaded by the distinction between evolution and evaluation as an historical change.  It seem that it is more an ideological difference.  More liberal or progressive churches, even today, have followed an evolution model by promoting social issues and placing individual salvation in a less prominent place.  On the other hand, conservative churches have emphasized the evacuation pathway with the greatest emphasis on individual salvation, and less on social improvement. 

However, in truth, I believe many modern churches actually have a blend of both the evolution and evacuation pathways, with emphasis on both social improvement and individual salvation.  In other words, to clarify his points, Jethani somewhat over-generalizes the different pathways and how they occur within the church.  I was also somewhat less persuaded by his resurrection pathway, but only because I do not see great conflict between secular Christian’s roles within the church and those with institutional roles.  Surely the distinction exists to some degree, but I do not see it as a problem within the body of Christ.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the points brought up by the author and the thought-provoking ideas addressed in the book. 

***I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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