Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chasing Christmas – Steven Hunt

Chasing Christmas
©2012 Harbour Lights, Aztec, NM

I want to get the review for this year’s Christmas read up before Christmas. That way, if you are interested in a good book that’s set during the Christmas season you’ll have time to snag a copy and read it during the holidays. I know, I know, Christmas is just around the corner. But you can do like I did and get an e-copy (they deliver immediately from all over the wwweb). I must also admit that I have a special reason for touting this particular book this particular Christmas. The author was my very first college roommate. Yes, before either of us knew anything we roomed together in an early-enrolment summertime program at Oklahoma Baptist University (shout out to all our Academy ’80 buds). Since those days, both Steven Hunt and I have grown up and had a variety of careers. Steve’s latest endeavors have brought him to the arena of Christian fiction. And he’s pretty good at the stuff.

One week before Christmas a despondent and down-hearted Teddy Whitaker decides the best way for him to handle life is to make his disappear. He’s lost his parents, his business, his daughter, his wife and his best friend all in a matter of months. So the story opens with a very discouraged hero aiming his vintage Camaro for the local ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ for one final ride. What he gets is the ride of a lifetime.

Miraculously spared from his impending doom, Teddy must learn three lessons from three unlikely teachers and make it home before Christmas morning or he will be dead and never see his family again. Accepting the stakes through a fog of doubt, Teddy decides to give it a try. After all, he really has nothing to lose.

This story, along with the fact that it is a Christmas tale, is a story of homage. In the vein of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” our hero interacts with otherworldly beings that help him to move beyond himself and learn the most important lessons in life. Hunt even pays special homage to some of these timeless classics in the telling of the story, although the angel characters have no knowledge of them. The book is also an honor to the author’s preacher uncle (to whom the book is dedicated, whom I have met, and who makes his own appearances in the story from time to time) who taught Hunt the very lessons that Teddy learns over the course of a week. Finally, the greatest homage is paid to the King of kings about whom the original Christmas story revolves.

This book has everything a good Christmas story should have: action, suspense, romance, conflict, and a spiritual side as well. Thanks for another good story to read by the Yule Log, my friend. You’ll be glad to receive the four and one-half out of five reading glasses, and your readers will want to get copies of this book to stuff all the Christmas stockings with. For my readers, get a copy of this book for yourself and one for a friend, and hop on over to the American Christian Fiction Writer’s (ACFW) bookclub, join and vote for this book.

Merry Christmas—Benjamin Potter, December 20, 2012

[This is a review of the ebook version (for Nook; also available for Amazon's Kindle). The book is also available in trade paperback.]

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Year with G.K. Chesterton – Kevin Belmonte, editor

A Year with G. K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder©2012 Thomas Nelson, Nashville

G.K. Chesterton. That great Christian author from England who gave us the Father Brown mystery stories was also the prolific writer of philosophy and apologetics. He was one of the influencers of C.S. Lewis in his own personal journey to Christianity. Is it any wonder that when I found a devotional based on Chesterton’s life and writings I grabbed at it?

This book holds a full year’s worth of writings and anecdotes from Chesterton’s life to provide devotional reading on a day-by-day basis. In addition, the editor has included some extra readings in the back of the book which he labels “Supplemental Readings: The Main Festival Days of the Church.” Of course these would specifically be related to the Roman Catholic Church of which Chesterton was a member.

With little variation, the reader will find a Scripture for the day, a short writing (it is unclear in the book whether this is by Chesterton or an observation by Belmonte), then an excerpt from one of Chesterton’s essays, stories, or other writings. Most days will also include a verbal snapshot of what happened “On this day” in the life of Chesterton.

It gives a quick overview of the man and his writing. Each day is filled with inspiration or as the subtitle of the book suggests “Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder.” Because I needed to get this review done in a timely manner, I’ve based it on a hurried perusal of the pages. I can’t wait to take the time as designated by the book’s design and spend “A Year with G. K. Chesterton.”

I would recommend this for anyone who has enjoyed Chesterton’s prose, or for faithful readers of Lewis and Tolkien. Readings only require a few minutes daily and the uplifting one gets is worth the moment. Four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter December 6, 2012

[This book was provided free of charge by the publisher for purposes of this review. The opinions are my own.]

Judas and the Gospel of Jesus – N. T. Wright

Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? 

©2006 Baker Books, Grand Rapids

The name of N. T. Wright is fairly familiar in the arena of theological thinkers. Modern Christian ministers, if they haven’t read some of his writings or about him in places like Christianity Today, have at the very least heard the name or seen it on the spine of a book or two when they were looking for the latest pop culture influenced book at their local Christian bookstore. Wright is not only a bishop in the Church of England, but is a Biblical historian and teacher of New Testament at institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge.

In recent years when another “new” gospel started creeping into theological circles, he half-heartedly ordered a copy of the translation and began piecing together what this so-called “Gospel of Judas” had to add to serious theological study. What he found was an authentic third century document that attempted to discredit and/or “correct” the New Testament account found in the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Lauded by modern-day Gnostics, the document in question is part of a larger find which was discovered in the 1970s but was not finally studied and translated until thirty years later. The text of the document, while not considered a forgery and hoax (as many Believers would hope), turns out to be an early Gnostic tale about how Judas Iscariot was really the hero of the New Testament story because he was acting in obedience to Jesus in His conspiracy to rid Himself of the earthly body in which He was trapped.

This and several other heretical Gnostic teachings are addressed in this book of historical apologetics. Wright takes time to explain some of the basics of Gnosticism and contrast them with what has been taught as orthodoxy throughout the centuries. Ideas like the Creator-God is evil and should not be worshiped as should the greater gods than He. Wright does two things in this short and readable book that are well worth the reader’s time to see:
  1. He sets aright the true Gospel in contrast to what proponents of this “new gospel” have tried to topple—namely, the Biblical record of Christ.
  2. He addresses issues that seem to sidetrack modern-day Christians who get caught up in one tangent or another in their faith-walk. In doing so, he reminds readers that they need not fear what intellectuals with big vocabularies are spouting when we have Truth on our side.

Conservative Evangelicals will thrill and cheer as Wright discredits the Gnostics and the supporters of this new “Gospel of Judas.” But then we begin to understand the audience of the Old Testament prophet Amos when he was proclaiming the oracles against all the nations surrounding Israel. You might recall that each nation was called down for their sins against God. Finally, the prophet narrowed the focus to Judah and then to Israel herself—and the proclamation against Israel was far more serious than that of her neighbors because of the depth of her transgression. Israel, after all, as a nation was “the people of God” and should have known better.

In this same manner, Wright after setting the scene for the dismissal of the Gospel of Judas as authoritative (even if it is an authentic third century document) and Gnosticism in general (either the early New Testament era version or the more modern variation), he levels his sights on the modern evangelical movement (American Protestantism in particular) to call us on our propensity to amalgamate certain teachings of the Gnostics into our own instruction just to keep from having to take part in debate over issues we’d rather ignore. The last chapter of the book is a bit harder to take, but its truth cannot be denied. We as Christians ought to be less defensive over our man-made traditions and more concerned with living as the Scriptures dictate.

Even though I feel a bit scathed having read the last pages, I can’t help but give Wright four and one-half reading glasses. This defense of the True Gospel in light of late archeological discoveries which would try to disprove that Gospel is one that will be helpful to both the academic and the layman alike. It will help you know more why you believe what you believe about the Passion of the Christ.
—Benjamin Potter December 6, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Time for a Christmas Special

Are you looking for a great stocking stuffer? Well here's just the thing. You can order my little Christmas story from Or, you can cut out the middleman and just contact me directly (I'll be glad to sign the book with a dedication to whomever you want.) And if you order five or more copies direct from me (sorry can't say what Amazon would do) I'll throw in shipping. (Cover price: $7.00 plus $4.00 s/h; Amazon price $6.00 plus $3.99 s/h; Direct order from me: $5.00 + s/h; orders of 3 or more price is $4.00. Orders of 5 or more receive discounted price plus free shipping. I can fulfill orders through PayPal.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Experiencing the Cross – Henry Blackaby

Experiencing the Cross: Your Greatest Opportunity for Victory over Sin
©2005 Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, OR

Henry Blackaby has been a favorite of mine ever since I first went through the material he helped develop called Experiencing God. Not only is he an influential leader in Baptist life, but he is also a very personable man when in speaking situations. A couple of years ago, I had opportunity to meet and visit with him for a few minutes as he spoke at a pastors’ retreat I was attending. While I am not always overwhelmed by Henry’s writing (often finding in it a re-packaging of Experiencing God), I am always ready to hear what he has to say or read something he has written.

This little book is yet another testimony to the readability of his writing. And the content is very challenging and helpful. In Experiencing the Cross, Blackaby draws the reader’s attention back to the focus of the cross—why it happened, why it had to happen, and what happened because it happened.

Using Scripture (a hallmark of the author), Blackaby leads us to see God’s plan in the event of the Cross. He then teaches us what that means for believers and non-believers in Christ alike. Finally, the author leads the disciple into a deeper discipleship about what is meant when the Scripture says that in order to follow Jesus one must “take up his cross” and follow Him.

This volume is filled with challenging and encouraging teachings that will help Christians to better understand and appreciate the cost of the Cross as well as the life to which the Cross calls all who would dare to follow Jesus. I recommend this book highly to anyone who desires his faith to be more vibrant, more active and more genuine. Five out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin  Potter, October 26, 2012

The Indian in the Cupboard – Lynn Reid Banks

The Indian in the Cupboard
© 1980 Doubleday, New York

In 1995, film-makers at Scholastic introduced movie audiences to the story that is The Indianin the Cupboard, a wonderful example of juvenile fiction from yet another talented British author. As with most movies, there are a number of departures from the original book on which it is based. But the good news is that this story got a wider exposure and children who had not yet read Banks got a chance to find this magical story.

This book is the first of five that were published over a nearly twenty-year period. I will be attempting to read others in the series over the next months when time permits.

Here is the story of a young boy (Omri) who receives a magical medicine cabinet (cupboard in British) for his birthday. Whether the magic is in the cupboard or in the key that Omri’s mother gives to him or in the combination of the two is not revealed in the story, but when used together plastic men come to life—only in miniature.

During the course of a few weeks, Omri learns that it is not really fun to have a “little man” to play with, but more of a responsibility. He learns how fragile people can be in relation to the world in which they live. He learns what it is to care for and be responsible for a human who is at once demanding and spectacular.

Banks is masterful in combining the culture of a British school-boy with real-life historical people such as an Iroquois from the French and Indian War era of the United States and a cowboy from the late nineteenth century western US. As he learns from his miniature friends, Omri and his best friend Patrick learn that the western movies that they have watched don’t depict the life of Cowboys and Indians as accurately as they thought. All Indians do not ride horses and live in teepees. Not all cowboys are as rough and tumble as the films have taught them.

This book was lauded by the New York Times and the movie does a pretty good job in retelling the story. As in most instances, there is much more to be enjoyed in the book, but the film is a good companion and even introduction. I recommend both to young readers and families who like magical adventure.

Five out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, October 26, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Worthy Cause

Many of you know that the Blushing Bride and I have entered into the arduous process called International Adoption. Each step brings us closer to bringing home a terrific special needs child who wants and needs a forever family to love him. One of the things we are discovering while we wade through the mountains of paperwork involved, is that money flows out of the pockets with every turn. So we're asking for support. Here's how you can help:
  1. Put our family (including the new one we will be able to introduce later) at the top of your prayer list--pray for patience, sanity, and wisdom as we continue down this road.
  2. Check out (and follow) our journey blog--posting is intermittent at best, but will take you through the steps with us.
  3. Jump over to our GoFundMe page and click the "Donate" button--it's easy and painless.
  4. Join us for garage sales if your in the Mulberry Grove area.
  5. Buy some of my books that are up for sale. Many of the books will be collectors' items which I've accumulated over the years. Some are signed by the author. Most will be from the mystery/suspense section of your favorite bookstore. I'm listing the first installment below. If you like mysteries, or know someone who does, contact me, we can work out almost any deal--just remember this is a fundraising effort, not a give-away.
First up is the eclectic but effervescent Kinky Friedman:

Greenwich Killing Time (1986, 1st) - $20.00
A Case of Lone Star (1987, signed 1st) - $50.00
When the Cat's Away (1988, signed 1st) - $50.00
Frequent Flyer (1989, signed 1st) - $50.00
Musical Chairs (1991, 1st) - $40.00
Elvis, Jesus, & Coca-Cola (1993, 1st) - $20.00
Armadillos & Old Lace (1994, 1st) - $20.00
God Bless John Wayne (1995, 1st) - $15.00
The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover (1996, signed 1st - remainder mark on foot) - $25.00
Road Kill (1997, signed and inscribed) - $20.00
Blast from the Past (1998, signed and inscribed, 1st) - $25.00
Spanking Watson (1999, signed 1st) - $30.00

(I will pay shipping for you if you wish to take advantage of this fundraising effort, just leave a comment so we can get details worked out.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Humming of Numbers – Joni Sensel

The Humming of Numbers© 2008 Henry Holt and Co., New York

Being one of those who is always on the prowl for cheap books to introduce me to new authors, I must admit I don’t just lap up books because they are free or nearly so—something has to appeal to get me to give it a try. The Humming of Numbers had several of those qualities: I found it at a dollar store (you know, those stores where “everything’s a dollar”), it was young adult fiction which has a certain appeal because it usually reads quickly and there is less need to turn on the inner censer at language or graphic descriptions, and it was set in an ancient English abbey (promising a faith element that appeals to my preachery side). What I found was something that gave me ups and downs in my reading moments.

Aiden, a novice monk who is nearing the time of taking his final vows, wants to join the abbey’s Scriptorium to copy and illuminate scriptures. Lana, the illegitimate daughter of the local Lord, is taken to the abbey to work a penance for attempting to defraud pilgrims with false relics. They are an unlikely pair indeed, but when Viking raiders attack it falls to these two young people to save their community. Aiden hears numbers humming from everyone and everything that has life (a talent he has suppressed all his life because no one believes him, and worse will ridicule him for), and Lana practices wood witchery. These traits will draw them together and help them win the day in the end.

The story is well-written and woven into the fabric of time with great skill. It is a compelling story of mystery, magic, and mayhem that promises to hold the attention most readers. I can applaud Sensel’s use of wordcraft to its fullest. Even in her description of Lana and her birth situation, there is an unquestionable use of language. Her story-building skills and characterization as well as descriptive passages call for the reader to read, read, read. Nothing can be more important for an author than to entrance their reading audience to this point.

Even so, I am disturbed by a couple of things that I encounter in the book. First, as a YA novel, there are some passages that would cause me to hesitate in recommending it to audiences younger than fifteen. While there are no blatant sex scenes, there is an implication toward them. Another, probably more, disturbing thing for me (as a pastor/man of faith reading the book) is the address of Christian faith throughout the book. It seems that (with at least some historical foundation) the established monks of the abbey are seen as stern and given to retribution on behalf of God. On the other hand, the witch of the story is seen as having a more genuine faith.

Because of this I give this book three out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, September 28, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hark! – Ed McBain

Hark! (87th Precinct Series #54)©2004 Simon & Schuster, New York

As police procedurals go, you cannot beat a good 87th Precinct novel. It’s just fun to follow the everyday goings-on as the police decipher each bit of evidence that comes their way. And nobody seems to tell the tale better than the late Ed McBain could. The stories are generally well-written and easy to read.

Hark! follows the guys at the eight-seven as they unravel the murder of Gloria Stanford (an Americanized anagram of her German “Antsdorf”). The use of the anagram to change her name gave her murderer, who turns out to be Adam Fen (another anagram for the recurring nemesis of Carella, Kling and the boys—the Deaf Man), the ingenious idea of how to confuse and be-muddle the detectives of the 87th squad.

Though the murder gets the ball rolling, the major crime is a big pay-off for the Deaf Man who weaves a Shakespearean web by sending quotes from the Bard to at the same time tell the police about the crime he intends to commit and confuse them as well.

While this is a good diversion for a few hours’ reading, Hark! does have its draw-backs. Thrown into the mix of the on-going daily calls that we see in the 87th are the developing/dying relationships between various cops on the squad. And then Carella is distracted by the upcoming double wedding of his widowed mother to an Italian furniture mogul from Milan and his sister to the assistant DA who let their father’s murderer get away with the crime.

Even these distractions don’t hurt the telling of the story—at least not too much anyway. Again, those who like police procedurals in the line of Hill Street Blues and Blue Bloods will have a nice time with this 87th Precinct story. Four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, September 15, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People – Dave Burchett

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People – Dave Burchett

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: Where We Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the Damage©2002, 2011  Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs

You just can’t go wrong with a title like When BadChristians Happen to Good People. And Dave Burchett (who is NOT a theologian by profession, by the way) backs it up with the subtitle “Where We Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the Damage.”

I will be the first to admit that the lion’s share of books available in Christian bookstores today that are aimed at helping Christians be more like Christ have a strong bent toward finger-pointing negativity. Our preaching tends to do the same. Either Christians are pointing accusatory fingers at the non-Believers around us highlighting the sin that is dragging them straight to hell, or we are involved in abusive name-calling of one another reminding each other how short we come when measuring up to our image of what Christianity should look like. (May I raise a quick “guilty” hand admitting my own participation in this unhealthy faith? We can work on it together.)

Many of these books (and sermons) are coming straight from the studies and mouths of some of the most sought-after Christian preachers and writers today. And then Emmy Award-winning television sports director Dave Burchett throws in his two-cents’ worth. Perhaps it is his lighter tone, or the fact that he is a non-clergy-type taking an honest look at what the Christian church is and has become that is appealing, but whatever the cause, in this second edition of his book, we find a sincere call for Christians to be more, well, Christian.

Burchett uses examples from his own experience with the unforgiving air of the forgiven and encounters with others who are actually living like Jesus to weave a Christian Living book that is arguably the most helpful one in the market today. He not only points out the shortfalls that have given the church a black eye over the years, but he also drops the answer to such failings throughout the book. The answer, according to the book, is to stop trying to be a good Christian and let Christ through His grace take care of that for you.

This book has and will earn its author more headaches at the hands of the self-righteous bunch of Christians who are monitoring the halls (his allusion, not mine), but no one expected shining the light on unpopular truth to be easy (history is filled with the blood-stories of martyrs who have proven this). What makes this book worth your while if you are a Christian is it’s readability and its personable approach to becoming more like the One whose name we bear.

If you happen to find a copy of the original 2002 version of the book, go ahead and read it, but if you can get your hands on the new 2011 edition (with some newer material and a softer tone), I would suggest it as the one to read. In fact I think it deserves 5 out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter August 31, 2012
[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Biggie and the Devil Diet – Nancy Bell

The Devil Diet© 2002 St. Martins Minotaur, New York

I first started reading Nancy Bell’s stories about Biggie when they first appeared some sixteen years ago. What appealed to me then was that the author was another Texas native telling mysteries set in Texas, and not just Texas—a fictional setting not so far from my own old stomping grounds. I liked the stories well enough to sit through the first four episodes (I missed number 5, and have just found number 6 to shuffle through).

The stories are told from the point of view of Biggie’s grandson JR Weatherford, who has finally turned thirteen by the time our present story takes place. In the midst of JR learning to deal with all these new feelings that he doesn’t understand (including a weird feeling around a pretty new girl and a newfound need to be disrespectful to Biggie), he discovers that his actual grandfather was not the man Biggie had been married to all those years, but an earlier love who became a wealthy race car driver and entrepreneur.

Just about the time JR gets to know Rex, the grandfather is shot, but not before changing his will to include the young Weatherford. Mixed in are all the lovable and nosy characters from previous Biggie stories, and we are treated to one of Willie Mae’s recipes (Willie Mae and Rosebud live in the “servants’ quarters” type house behind Biggie and JR, and Willie Mae cooks and cleans for Biggie) at the end of the story.

This story includes a ranch converted into a “fat” farm for young girls, a tornado that does significant damage to Job’s Crossing, and a dilemma brought on when JR forgets that he’s asked his long-time best friend Monica to the dance and asks Misty (the pretty newcomer) as well.

The story moves relatively quickly as with all the Biggie stories. The biggest drawback when you visit Job’s Crossing is the dialect. In attempting to give color and character to the inhabitants of our little east Texas village, Bell often overdoes it. Even so, I’d be glad to recommend this to any and all cozy mystery connoisseurs with a four reading glasses rating.

—Benjamin Potter, August 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town – Kimberly Willis Holt

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

©1999  Dell Yearling, New York

Sometimes you read a book and want to see the movie based on it. Sometimes you see the movie first. That’s what happened to me just a few weeks ago. The family and I were watching a really good family film based on Kimberly Willis Holt’s award-winning book. In this kind of scenario, I usually say that the book is better than the movie (when approaching Ernest Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, forget about Cicely Tyson’s career mistake and read the book) with an occasional hiccup where the movie outshines the book tremendously (What the Deaf Man Heard was much better on the screen than its counterpart, Whatthe Deaf Mute Heard). But sometimes, just sometimes, you encounter something that is worth your while in either format because one’s not better than the other – they’re just . . . different.

When Zachary Beaver Came to TownConsider the nice little film released in 2006 and starring Jonathan Lipnicky (et al). Here we have a superb family film about small-town Texas, and all the quirks that endear it to us—regardless of where we really live. It earned a PG rating for some mild language, but over all you can sit down with even your younger children and a bowl of popcorn and laugh/cry your way right along with the characters. The acting is pretty good. The characters are developed to a point of recognition from the moment they hit the screen. The story flows with most of the events from the book with a few major variations that don’t really damage the plot itself. Some anomalies that hit you over the head are the military involvement of the best friend’s brother, which misses the book’s 1970s setting, and the use of email where Holt’s characters wrote letters. I’d recommend the movie for all ages of film-watchers.

On the other hand, the book is recommended for the thirteen and older group. My ten-year-old daughter is an excellent reader and would sprint through this book like it was water. She’s even quick enough to catch all the nuances of what’s going on in the book. But some of the themes addressed by the book, well, I’m not ready for her to have to tackle them. Even so, this is a well-written, smooth reading book that the YA audience and adult readers alike would enjoy.

Antler, Texas is a widespot in the road where nothing ever really happens. Nothing until Zachary Beaver, the “World’s Fattest Boy”, shows up that is. Follow along with the adventures of Toby and Cal as they learn about love, hate, anger, war, and death, all in the matter of a couple hundred pages. If the development of the characters in this book has any fault it is that the support characters are rather flat and the narrator is too nice—but we’ve all been in his shoes.

Check this book out of you local library, or buy it for your shelf, or find it in e-form—you will want to read this book. You’ll see why it’s on virtually everybody’s reading list. Watch the movie, too. It’s great family fare. Just remember, even with their similarities, they are (almost) entirely different enjoyments. (In other words, if you’re one of those who waits for them movie to watch instead of reading the book—read the book; and if you’re a purist who says you only read the book and don’t like movies based on books—watch the movie. In either case, you’ll be glad you did.) Book and movie—neither is to be missed. Five out of five reading glasses (or popcorn bowls) all around.

—Benjamin Potter July 24, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Real Marriage – Mark & Grace Driscoll

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together©2012 Thomas Nelson, Nashville 

In a society that is filled with preachers who are trying to re-invent church in order to appeal to a new generation, Mark Driscoll seems to have found a voice—at least in his home of Seattle where he leads one of the faster growing churches in one of the most un-churched areas of our country. The popular trend today is for some of these pastors to publish books based on their teaching concerning sex and marriage. So Mark and his wife Grace have teamed up to present their take on answering some of the formerly unaskable questions.

Quite frankly, the book does a good job of sticking with Scriptural basis for finding the answers to these questions. But also quite frankly, the authors sometimes deal a little more frankly than polite society would like for this topic to be dealt with. I think that there is an audience for this book, although it may not be the audience that the authors and the publisher thought of when producing and marketing this book.

It is not for the general public at large. I know that this is the way that it has been approached, but I believe that this book, along with others like it, will serve best as reference books in the hands of ministry leaders, Christian counselors and the like.

Even having said this, the advice they give concerning coming to grips with one’s physical past is sound, though sometimes over-generalized. At times the authors assume that every person inside and outside the church has some deep dark hidden sexual secret that must be exposed. The method of exposure advised is a “rip the bandaid off” approach that can lead to more scars than healing. Does such hidden past need to be brought out into the open? In most cases, yes. But this should be done with great care so as not to destroy the relationship that you are trying to heal.

Would I recommend this book? Cautiously. Do I think it could be helpful in certain situations? Probably. Do we need to use a “group study guide” to include this in our on-going church curriculum? I would advise against it. Therefore, I give this book 3.5 reading glasses out of five.

—Benjamin Potter, July 12, 2012

Illusion – Frank Peretti


© 2012 Howard Books, New York

I’m not always a fan of Frank Peretti. Some of his early, highly-praised work moved a little slow for me. But I do get excited when acclaimed authors who stand on their faith treat us to another story. And so I was excited when I got an invitation to review his latest work of fiction. The short version of the saga toward this review is that my review copy never showed up before the early March deadline. Consequently, I got an e-copy in mid-April and finally got a chance to read it.

The story follows the life of Dane Collins following the tragic auto accident that took his beloved Mandy’s life. After forty years of marriage, the two well-respected magicians were preparing to open a new chapter off-stage, and move into semi-retirement in Mandy’s beloved Idaho. Suddenly Mandy is whisked back to the fairgrounds where she first met Dane before they met and the whirlwind begins.

Any more of the story line would be filled with spoilers, so I’ll stop there and give you the review. The book starts slow, with some jumps and starts. But as with Peretti’s TheOath, you are soon so involved in the lives of the characters that you want to keep reading until page 500 rolls around. This is a well-crafted story that requires more than a modicum of suspended belief. That’s okay though, because of the genre.

Genre issues bring up some other questions though—what kind of book do we have? Which audience will love this tale best? The author himself has the same questions in a short afterword. Of course, most bookstores will place this in the Christian or Inspirational Fiction sections simply because of the author. I would have no trouble shelving it with the romance novels (because it’s a love story), in the suspense section (because it’s filled with mystery), or even with the Sci-Fi/Fantasy works (because of the need to suspend belief to get into the story). Does the author achieve his goal of painting a picture of the love that Creator-God has for His church? I think so, although one would not necessarily read that into the story unless they had a tendency to do it.

If you’re a Peretti fan, you’ve probably already read this book—and if not you’ll want to. It isn’t classic Peretti, but it does expand his horizons without departing from his original foundation. The book addresses Christianity without being preach-y (which I really like). If you haven’t read one of this author’s books, Illusionis a great introduction to him and his writing. Readers of romance, mystery/suspense, or fantasy books will all be happy with this book. I give him five reading glasses for this new novel.

—Benjamin Potter, July 12, 2012

[This book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. No compensation has been given for this review. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This is a review of the electronic version of the book.]

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Gospel of Yes – Mike Glenn

The Gospel of Yes: We Have Missed the Most Important Thing About God. Finding It Changes Everything© 2012 WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs

In the panoply of inspirational books encouraging Christians to be Christian one can find a multitude of definition books. David Platt stresses that we live Radical lives. Thom Rainer suggests that we find a way to Simple Church and Simple Life. It is great to be challenged, but at some point it would be nice to move from motivation to practice. Enter Mike Glenn, senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood (read Nashville), Tennessee. What Glenn does that sets his book apart from others who challenge the church to be Christ-like is to put a handle on what it takes to simplify, and do it radically.

Having grown up in the Southern tradition of nos and don’ts and stop that’s, Glenn has stumbled onto something that is more practical and freeing than the rhetoric that says, “Christians ought to . . .” Simply put, the author opens the reader’s eyes to a fresh emphasis on a couple of Scripture passages. The foundational passage for the book is one that throughout the ages has been used to encourage integrity in the Christian—“Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” (see Matthew 5:37) Glenn suggests that Christ has a “yes” for every believer, and that to say, “yes” to that yes in our lives will automatically require us to say, “no” to a number of other things, even good things. It is your yes that you must follow, not anyone else’s.

This refreshing take on Christian living helps to free up the believer to be all that he can be without being distracted by all the other good things there are open to us. The principle, as I see it, can be well learned by the church as well.

The writing is not without its hiccups. For instance, in the Introduction and first chapter of the book, Glenn is desperately trying to communicate his epiphany about the “gospel of yes” with limited or little success. However, as the reader moves into the following chapters, the idea becomes a tangible thing that can be grasped. This personal “yes” presented to every believer by God Himself is one that finds its way into all the Scripture.

Approaching a passage used by parents throughout the ages (both in and out of the church) to bully their children into proper behavior from the standpoint of God’s “yes” changes the emphasis from a child towing the line, to helping that child find her niche. The passage found at Proverbs 22:6 advises, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Throughout the ages parents have put the emphasis on the way trying to drag their children along with them on a path of Bible memorization and church attendance (not necessarily a bad thing). But Glenn suggests moving the emphasis from the pathway to the person—train a child in the way he should go—help him find his place and direction. If we will do this then our children will not only excel in the direction that is theirs, but they will also be following the “yes” offered to them by God Himself (which will keep them in the path that He has chosen for them—including the moral places we want them to be).

This is a challenging book in the respect that it forces us out of our comfortable world of nos and negatives, but it is also a more encouraging book for the Christian. We learn that it is okay to say, “no” to even some of the good things (if they are not part of our “yes”), and we learn that even when the going is difficult, following Christ is a reward in and of itself. Thanks for the re-wiring, Mike. Not only could this preacher/reader use it, but I think it will be helpful for the church in general. (four out of five reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, May 29, 2012

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Erasing Hell – Francis Chan with Preston Sprinkle

Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We Made Up© 2011 David C. Cook, Colorado Springs

Francis Chan talks about Hell in this book. While the book is written from Chan’s point of view, he goes out of his way to give credit to his researcher, Preston Sprinkle. In fact, the Preface (p.9) attributes the bulk of the research and facts to Sprinkle. Regardless, this book is timely.

In a day when author after author is giving their take on what the afterlife will bring, Chan and Sprinkle offer not only an orthodox view of what Hell is, but also a level-headed one. The first half of the book focuses strongly on recent writings about Hell, with a pointed apologetic aimed at Rob Bell’s popular Love Wins. (I’ll not comment on Bell’s book specifically because I haven’t read it and don’t know if I’ll get around to that one or not.) In fact, while if what I’ve read in reviews and responses to Bell’s book are true then this is a needed response. However, since it comes across as a reaction to another’s writing weakens the book to some extent.

Even so, some of the questions that plague Christians are answered from a Scriptural standpoint:
Ø      Is there really a Hell?
Ø      If there is, what is it like?
Ø      Would a loving God really send somebody to Hell?

Chan even tackles the really tough questions that deal with what God is like. I have to ask along with the authors: What if God did do something that I consider unkind, would it make Him less God? (see chapter 6) The point that I cam away with that seems to keep coming back is that I am not God. Since I am not God, is it proper for me to impose my standards on Him? I would suggest that often when we do this we lessen who He is in exchange for exalting our own ethic upon Him.

In the end, I will read at least the last half of the book again and again, just for the challenge of remembering why I believe what I believe about God, Love, Justice, Righteousness, and yes, even Hell. (four out of five reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, May 23, 2012

[This is a review of the Nook version of this book.]

Forgotten God – Francis Chan

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

© 2009 David C. Cook, Colorado Springs

The second of Chan’s books is arguably the best of the three. In this volume, Chan tackles a subject that has divided the church for centuries—God, the Holy Spirit. The author reminds readers that while most Christians of the evangelical stripe have no issue with God, the Father (Creator of all things), nor God, the Son (Savior of the world), we have a great amount of difficulty wrapping our minds around the Spirit of God who indwells us.

After addressing the extremes—the Holy Spirit is some magical power that expresses Himself the same way all the time in every Christian (represented by the strictest of Pentecostal believers) versus the Holy Spirit is there, but you don’t give more than a passing nod lest you become too charismatic (or “a charizmatick” as my mother-by-law would put it) as represented by my own Baptist upbringing. Both of these views is inadequate because they are reactionary to one another. Historically, my Baptist roots would warn me not to put too much emphasis on the spiritual side of things—accompanied by shallow emotionalism and “getting carried away.”  On the other end of the spectrum, those who are reacting to my conservative reaction are so “spiritual” that they neglect the practice of real worship.

Chan’s book is a much needed call to remember that we are one with the Spirit when we are one with Christ. It is a balanced view of what we should view as living the Christ-filled life. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to (1) learn more about who the Spirit of God is and what He does; (2) make the Christian life their path; or (3) truly follow Jesus in daily Christian living. After all, we cannot do what we are called and expected to do in our own strength—we must have the Spirit.

Read this book. (five out of five reading glasses)

—Benjamin Potter, May 23, 2012
[This is a review of the Nook version of this book.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Crazy Love – Francis Chan

Crazy Love – Francis Chan (with Danae Yankoski)

© 2008 David C. Cook, Colorado Springs

I’ve been hearing good things about Francis Chan for several years. I have been interested in reading his books since they first hit the bookstores about four years ago with CrazyLove. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the high prices that were required by the publisher. Then Easter weekend, eBook sellers were offering a deal on all three of Chan’s titles (get them for your eReader—in my case Nook—this weekend for free). That’s right I was able to snag all three for free (they are back up to about five dollars again). So, starting today, I’ll be reviewing them.

Crazy Love is as challenging as David Platt’s Radical. The point of the book is that Chan wants to challenge Christians to live their Christian life as if they know Christ. The author’s candor and sincerity are evident in the writing. It is well-written and compelling. I know that as a result of reading, I personally am interested in becoming more Christ-like in the way that I live out my everyday life.

There is one caution that I would place on the reader. As the book progresses towards the last chapter there is a tendency in the reading to push the reader to (ultimately) embracing a social gospel. I do not believe that Chan himself adheres to such a stretching of the true Gospel message. His attention to Scripture command is too detailed to expect that he would espouse a gospel message that relies more on social action than on faith in Christ. At the same time some of the later chapters could lead the reader into just such a life.

Having said that, I think that every Christian would benefit from reading this short book. It brings to light the fact that a giant portion of the American church is filled with people who have “walked the aisle,” “said a prayer,” or other church-esque means of protection from going to Hell (or insurance of going to Heaven), without need for true commitment. Don’t read this book if you are fully satisfied with your life. You will not be able to stay the same if you really take the book to heart.

Chan rates four and one-half out of five reading glasses for Crazy Love.

—Benjamin Potter, April 27, 2012
[This is a review of the Nook version of this book.]

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