Independent Author Spotlight: Joseph Macolin0’s The Birth of Death

The Birth of Death by Joseph Macolino is a fantasy novel in the tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It has enough common fantasy aspects to seem familiar with enough that’s new and different to make it original.

The Good

Macolino does an excellent job with world creation, and he doesn’t spend too many words to do so. Part of that is most readers are familiar with elves and centaurs, but even the less familiar peoples are quickly understood and grasped. If the reader gets confused, there is a glossary to help.

The author also developed characters to a reasonable depth. The four main characters, an elven couple, a centaur, and a cat-like creature are all multi-faceted, and the reader can understand the nature of each and empathize with each. The heroes are not overly perfect.

Macolin0 also handles action sequences well, particularly the battle and fight scenes. He describes the movements of each participant without slowing down the action of the fight. In general, the plot flows well, and the book is a good length.

The Meh

Some scenes take too long. For example, a large number of words go into an elf making a salad. Descriptions of beautiful female characters were overwrought. Readers who don’t like too much gore or violence may find the battle sequences overdone.  Occasionally, the plot stutters so to speak. In the final battle sequence, there is a change of circumstance affecting the main supernatural hero, the Avatar, that doesn’t quite make sense to me. Some areas need editing.

The book touches on several themes that are left open. These topics are authority and tyranny, community and individuality, government control and liberty, collectivism and free markets, dependence and personal responsibility.

Analysis

The book is part of a series, and I am sure many of these themes will be developed further if the close of this book is an indication. The book is a good read. A fantasy reader looking for a new series to start may find a good one here.

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The Art of Personal Evangelism–sharing Christ in a new cultural dynamic

theartof-evangelism Published in 2003, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Christ in a Changing Culture by William McRaney Jr. examines the need to change approaches to evangelism in light of a culture shaped by postmodernism. McRaney has served in various positions in state Baptist conventions related to evangelism. He is the founder of the Ministry Enhancement Group and holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Structure

McRaney divides the book into three sections. The first deals with elements of personal evangelism such as God’s involvement and the personal participation of the witness. The second section deals with communicating the gospel. The third section includes aids, suggestions, and tips for evangelism. The book concludes with appendices regarding one’s testimony, objections to the gospel, and illustrations for witnessing.

What I Appreciated

I made a lot of marks and notes in this book. I appreciated the explanation of the cultural shifts in this book. McRaney did not pine for a return to modernism nor did he spend time lambasting postmodernism. He recognizes that both have good and bad and encourages Christians to pursue a biblical view of the world. However, he explains clearly how our approach to evangelism must change to communicate the gospel to those with a postmodernist worldview. The lists comparing what verses relate best to those with a modern worldview and those with a postmodern worldview are very helpful.
Though an academic treatment of personal evangelism, the book is very practical. I hope to go back and work to memorize the scriptures mentioned as useful. The bibliography cites many books that would make excellent additions to any Christian’s library, particularly those with a ministry to equip others to do evangelism.

What I Wished Had Been or Not Have Been

At times, the lists overwhelmed me causing me to have traumatic flashbacks to some of my seminary courses. Occasionally, I did not understand why certain lists fell where they did in the book or what their purpose was. Of course, that confusion could be as much the fault of the reader as of the author. Also, after thirteen years, the book is a bit dated. I would be interested to read an updated edition that considers post-postmodernism and the increasing fracturing of our society between different identities.

Conclusion

I am very glad that read this book. I would recommend it to anyone trying to figure out why the way we did evangelism in the past isn’t working and what we need to do to be more effective. Ministers will want to find ways to present these ideas to their congregations and either discover or develop methods of evangelism training that take them into account.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free from B&H Academic. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Guardrails–a book about chaos and order in discipleship

guardrails-book

Those familiar with church planting and missions probably have several books on their shelves about movements in church planting (CPM) and making disciples (DMM). However, I had not read a book that I felt capable of successfully communicating the principles of multiplication to the broader evangelical community. Alan Briggs’s Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church may become the first to do so. Briggs is director of Frontline Church Planting and multiplying pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs.

Movements are somewhat controversial. Many assume that movements are out-of-control incubators of heresy where leaders are left ignorant of the Bible and its doctrines. I have another book about this subject on my shelf that I bought used. The previous owner filled it with the notes revealing that he approached the subject with skepticism at best and antagonism at worst. Through Guardrails, Briggs challenges those negative assumptions and shows that in reality, a movement benefits from a structure that keeps it on the right path of expanding God’s kingdom.

Briggs begins with the concept of chaordic: the idea that a movement is a combination of chaos and order. Providing order to the disciple making movements are six principles if what discipleship must be. It must be simple, holistic, adaptable, regular, reproducible, and positive. Missionaries and church planters will be familiar with many of these.What I Appreciated

What I Appreciated

Briggs focuses on principles and not methodology. Too many church planting and discipleship books focus on methods that work well only in certain contexts. Another debate common among those who make disciples is the balance between obedience based discipleship and information based discipleship. Briggs achieves balance by not emphasizing one and discounting the value of the other. Briggs sees discipleship with emphasis on both but is clear that formal discipleship that occurs in a classroom type setting must translate into practice. I also appreciated Briggs repeated statements that one must follow the Spirit in their context.

What I Wished Had Been

I wish Briggs had fleshed out the principles more, particularly by showing how they work in practice. Briggs avoided this for the sake of preventing the book becoming about methodology. However, I think he could have avoided it by giving a variety of examples from different settings showing that people apply them in diverse ways.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book to church planters and church leaders. We are in need of Disciple Making Movement in our world today. This book provides guardrails guiding our path toward it.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale Blog Network. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism is a beautifully written narrative history of autism—charting its history of discovery, diagnosis, misunderstandings, advocacy, and improvements in treatment and care. Written by journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker, it is a valuable resource to increase our understanding of autism.

Strengths

The book is comprehensive and obviously well researched. The authors did an excellent job capturing the emotional struggle and frustration of parents in the early years as they struggled with the false idea that somehow mothers were to blame. It was these very personal stories and struggles that kept me reading as I became personally involved with each person’s story.

I did not expect the book to flow from chapter to chapter as well as it did. One of the most beautiful aspects of the book was the story of Donald, the first child to ever be diagnosed with autism. Donald’s story appears in the first chapters. His story reappears in the final chapter entitled “A Happy Man.” The ending is a nice final touch.

Weaknesses

For some the comprehensive nature of the book is a plus. Others may find the amount of information imposing. It takes a motivated reader to work their way entirely through it.

Final Analysis

This book is a gift to those families touched by these very special people who are on the autism spectrum. For those suffering it as a heavy burden, this book is a reminder that there are those who have gone before. It is a reminder of the progress that society has made and the need to continue research for further development. Pastors, ministers, counselors, and teachers may also gain valuable insights into the lives of those with autism and their families.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Independent Author Spotlight: Jason E. Royle’s The Rapture Misunderstood

Jason E. Royle is pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. In The Rapture Misunderstood, Royle addresses the subject of the Rapture. For readers not familiar with the term and theological debates, the Rapture refers to a moment toward the end of time when Jesus will appear in the heavens, and those who believe in Him who have died will be raised followed by those who are alive and believe in Him. They will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. From there, and even before there, exists lots of disagreement among Christians. Royle’s book deals with themes of eschatology that go far beyond just the Rapture.

Summary

In his introduction, Royle states that he will not definitively answer all the questions. He keeps his promise, and that is a good thing. He divides the book into two parts. The first part is a short story illustrating misunderstandings regarding the rapture. (It seemed that there were a lot of other misunderstandings at work as well.) The second part is a brief summary of different views of the Eschatology. Royle does not argue for any one position over another.

The short story is a puzzling journey that follows Pastor Bell (I assume that he is no relation to Rob) as he leads his small group of disciples to bring about the end of time. Pastor Bell has good intentions but has a salad of theological beliefs and a buffoonish manner of taking himself too seriously. For some reason, a great deal of fictionalized Catholic mysticism shows up in the story, probably a take-off on Dan Brown and the like. In the end, the point of the story is that the timing of the Rapture is entirely in the Father’s hands. We can’t rush it or make it happen.

The second part of the book summarizes the major eschatological views—Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism, including their beliefs regarding Israel, the Rapture, and the timing of Christ’ return.

Analysis

As I wrote earlier, the short story portion though interesting and page turning is strange in some ways. It is hard to know just what pieces of Pastor Bell’s theology the author would agree and which portions he would not, though I suspect with most, that he would not. The Roman Catholic figures that appear are equally confusing. A monk tries to point Pastor Bell and his followers toward grace, but in the end, leads him toward the Vatican and ritual. While his conclusion is well-said, the getting there was hard to understand, because the story seemed to posit that Pastor Bell’s efforts almost worked.

The summary of the different eschatological positions was excellent. I believe that Royle stated each in a way that proponents of the views would find acceptable. For someone looking for a concise and understandable explanation of each, this book is very useful.

(Full discosure: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)