Friday, November 20, 2009

A Christmas Carol, Special Edition – Charles Dickens

©2009, Standard Publishing, Cincinnati

[Special edition includes notes and discussion material by Stephen Skelton.]

It was about time for me to read Dickens’ classic again, so I started sifting through my stacks of Christmas books to find a copy. Then I received an email offering a review copy of this new paperback edition with new notes and discussion points reached my computer.

The text of the Dickens story is the original publication which includes material excised from many of the read-aloud copies (including the one as part of the volume of Christmas Stories to read aloud with your family that I picked up at the local Walmart for next to nothing). The story is rich with descriptive passages and imagery that lets readers join the old miser as he travels the fanciful journey led by Ghosts of Christmases past, present and yet to come.

The classic story is so well-known and so over-imitated that it bears little re-telling here. But this is a pretty good volume to add to your Christmas collection. Some of the positive aspects of the new edition include: the complete text of this Seasonal favorite, the marginal notes—defining some more archaic terms, explaining some of the biblical imagery that may be lost in the reading, and reporting some of the various changes the author made before publication as well as after publication for his public readings—and graded discussion questions that guide study of the story by younger and older readers alike.

There are some drawbacks to this lovely volume, though. The Christian flavor of the new material may limit the audience. For Christian readers though, this will help allow opportunities for discussions of the faith that are deeply imbedded in the text. Also, the notes—while helpful in some respects—can be distracting while reading some of the more intricate passages.

If you’re looking for a beautiful rendering of the classic this edition would be a nice addition to your library. The paperback format makes it an excellent option for group or classroom study as well. I give this new edition four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, November 20, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

City Signals – Brad Smith

© 2008 New Hope Publishers, Birmingham

Brad Smith is an old hat in—some might include him as a pioneer in and leader of—the area of urban ministry. He serves as president of Bakke Graduate University, and his heart for ministry in the urban setting is readily evident.

His book is a study in spiritual formation. Stating up front that the material is designed for those who are struggling with all the ins and outs, ups and downs, starts and stops, of urban ministry, Smith offers some helpful hints that may or may not be readily available to all readers. With nine chapters addressing spiritual formation principles like pain encountered and presence in relationship, and a tenth chapter throne in as a re-cap, the book shows good organization, and even includes group leader helps and formation aids as appendices. Each chapter concludes with personalization questions and challenges useful for individual or group study.

From there the book gets lost from its conceptualization. Certainly some of the principles about building relationship and understanding the different styles of growth experienced by a variety of leaders are helpful, but Smith couches his message in a way that will be ultimately narrowing of his audience. While one would assume unintentional, Smith sends the message that ministry outside any urban setting is not really ministry at all, and this would lose to him some of those he would like to welcome as partners in urban ministry (namely those who live and serve outside major population areas). In Chapter 10 he seems to cast a Bandaid® towards this unfortunate conclusion, but it comes as too little, too late.

The other, more screaming drawback to the book is the disjointed approach to the author’s definition of spiritual formation. While there is not a problem in approaching spiritual formation from a nontraditional angle, the fleshing out of ideas reaches a disconnect in which the reader must scratch his head asking where the writer is going and where he’s come from? Some who are actively engaged in urban ministry will find this book a helpful study, others will have to dig deep between the pages to find principles that do truly cross ministry boundaries—principles about relationship and calling, and still others will do well by avoiding this book at all.

City Signals gets only 2 reading glasses from this reviewer.

—Benjamin Potter, November 4, 2009

“Become a New Hope Book Review Blogger. Visit for more information.”

Popular Posts