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Faith in the Fog: A Review

Of all the possible things for Faith in the Fog to remind me of it is the Composition classes that I teach. Where it particularly becomes obvious is when my classes start to delve into basic grammar. It seems like every student that comes in has some odd trick or crazy notion on how grammar is supposed to work. I even had my mother call me up once to ask, “What is that trick you told me about that always lets you get grammar right?” Confused I hesitantly responded, “Study and apply it everyday.” This was not the answer she was looking for.

What I realized in reading Jeff Lucas’s book is that Christians can be much the same way about religion. They have heard some clever saying, read some bumper sticker, or skimmed the newest, most popular book and they think they know the “trick” to religion. They then proceed to offer awful advice that is neither biblical nor fruitful. In almost all cases, these pithy, easy answers lead new (and even not-so-new) Christians down a dark path of confusion and disappointment. What is the trick to understanding the Bible? “Study and apply it everyday.”

Even this is too simple by far, but at least it is a step in the right direction. This, along with similar concepts, is what Lucas is exploring in Faith in the Fog. Through a personal narrative that helps the reader understand his trials and triumphs, Lucas is able to share how well-meaning people with a limited understand and application of the Bible can do more harm than good. Moreover, he shows by example, and some biblical reference, how we can become our own worst enemy.

The implication that Lucas creates is that many Christians have bought into a glamorized, Hollywood friendly version of what it means to be one of the faithful. We hear often-embellished stories of spiritual success that seems to demonize the person who is not instantly caught-up. We hear massively over-simplified explanations of topics that scholars having been debating for centuries, and we begin to doubt ourselves and our walk with Christ. Lucas sums this up when he says, “someone asks a question or honestly expresses their struggle with doubt or admits to a concern about doctrine that in turn creates controversy, and the label-pinning begins. Liberal. Doubter. Even heretic.”

What Lucas does well is that he shows that becoming a disciple is a life-long journey. It is sometimes a journey of striving ahead and other times a journey of regression. It is a journey during which we will have friends like Job who offer us well-sounding but ultimately ridiculous advice. More importantly, it is a journey that we make with the Spirit leading us. A journey of prayer, Bible study, thoughtful seeking, and hopefully good teaching. While the journey is rarely easy, we can be comforted by knowing that Christ is there with us, and that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6)

As someone who is also a composition teacher, and not just a theologian, I did have some starts and stops with the book literarily. In some places, the narrative did not flow from idea-to-idea very smoothly leaving me wondering where Lucas was going with his points – sometimes for pages. In other places, his biblical illustrations, while accurate, where somewhat clumsily entered into and extracted from. There were also areas where the reader is given an over-abundance of information that is not strictly pertinent to what is being discussed. I assume this was meant to create a sense of cathartic connection between the reader and the author but it made long sections seem to amble on. Finally, there were areas where Lucas’s wording was a bit stilted and I had to re-read what he wrote, but (to an extent) I am nit-picking. In the arm wrestling contest between the theologian and the writer in me: however, the theologian wins hands down. Lucas has made some very important point and offers some good advice both implicitly and explicitly in his book Faith in the Fog.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan Non-Fiction through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

 

 

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Foundations for Youth Ministry: A Review

Youth Ministry powerpoint

Youth Ministry powerpoint (Photo credit: Susan WD)

Several years ago, my church was going through a new youth pastor about every 6 months: a frightening turnover in any environment. While this problem only lasted a couple of years, it was stressful and disconcerting to say the least. What we noticed was that many people were not equipped to do what is required of an effective youth pastor in this current political and sociological environment. In several different board meetings, mounting frustration was shared that there needed to be a resource that new and struggling youth pastors could turn to. I, as one of the pastors, poured over the materials that were available at the time.

In looking at the materials that were available 4-5 years ago, what I found was that a small percentage were good, but overly academic and with very little application. What’s more, few if any of them took into consideration to modern social climate either out of neglect of the author or out of age of the text. The remainder of the books I found were rife with psychotherapy babble and extra-biblical ideas. What I was looking for was a baseline for youth pastors not an inspirational novella or a how-to book on how to improve my youth ministry through social networking, yikes!

What we find in Dean Borgman’s book Foundations for Youth Ministry is the book I need a half-decade ago. The author lays out a clear, easy-to-follow theological foundation that informs a new youth pastor about the ideas, approaches, and doctrines that are out there in addition to providing a step-by-step form of exegetical interpretation that remains biblical while allowing enough room to show the youth of the church how scripture is not just applicable but fundamental in their day-to-day lives.

Borgman then goes into many of the common apologetic and application issues that teens run into (family, peers, sexuality, culture, technology) and offers pastors a way to show how each is addressed in the Bible. Perhaps the most valuable element Borgman shares is his demonstration of how we are not to make the everything Bible applicable to the world but instead how everything in the world is applicable to the Bible. This consistent, scripture-oriented approach to youth ministry is truly the foundational element of this book.

If the book stopped here it would be good, but Borgman goes on to show how the lessons for both youth and the pastor branch off into other elements of ministry. The ideas of team-building, relationships, and outreach are, while not keystone to the text, clearly implied throughout. Above all, the author stresses the high calling of youth ministry and ends with this thought “I am convinced that God wants us to be as wise as possible about ourselves, young people, families, and cultures around us. God also wants us to understand both the heavenly, spiritual side of the church and its human, institutional realities.”

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Baker Academic through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Educating All God’s Children: A Review

Primary pupils in group work in a small villag...

Primary pupils in group work in a small village school in southern Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

The book Educating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham is a well-researched, well-organized book that will prove useful to both educators and the church in examining what they can do to empower students to do better in their classes and to be more confident about their own abilities. Fulgham graduated from the University of Michigan and later joined Teach For America where she taught fifth grade in Compton, California. She received her doctorate in education from UCLA with a focus on urban education policy and teacher preparation. Her varied experiences and education are what add to the quality and academic clarity of her book.

Having been in education (both public and private: both secular and Christian) for nearly 20 years now, I have to admit a certain amount of trepidation in approaching this book. Over the years, my professional learning community has been regaled with books on how to fix the ills that plague our education system. In Southern California particularly, I have been approached by professionals representing virtually every minority and special-interest group telling me how their approach will “level the playing field.” Most of these solutions are self-serving and at best put a bandage on the problem offering many complaints and few genuine solutions.

Fulgham’s book, while suffering from some of the same problems, is probably the most useful that I have read for several reasons. First, she takes the time to break down each of the issues into manageable sub-sections. These allow her to be specific about the larger problems that she is talking about. This has the benefit of addressing specific concerns that her audience might have. Perhaps this was best handled in her section on low-income families.  Additionally, the clear, well-chosen facts and statistics she regularly uses clearly relate to a particular issue rather than being loose and non-relatable. It is interesting that her study on low-income families is one of her best sections since she grew up in a middle-class household.

In issues of race and culture, I appreciated her up front nature when she openly admits that as an African American that she would explain some of “the academic achievement gap by playing the dreaded ‘race card.’” She certainly gets much more prolific and animated on racial topics than she does others that touch a little less closely to her personal life and childhood. Nonetheless, she continues to handle this in the same logical, well-supported manner that she has handled other issues in her book. One area that seems to be lacking; however, is that she doesn’t seem to address the issue of culture. She seems to side step the issue that different cultures have different values in relationship to education and those values are reflected in a family’s daily life. Perhaps she does this because there is little that we can do to change an entire culture, but it is an important issue. Many minority families put far more stress on family (older siblings babysitting during school day)  and provision (teens holding a part-time job to pay the bills) than on academic achievement. It is her position that all parents what their children to do well and to go as far academically as they are able: This is an overly broad generalization and  just isn’t the case. Examples: “I believe all parents hope that their children become well educated” and “I’ve found that almost all parents do want the very best education for their children.” It also seems that she ignores the effects of “modeling” by the parents in not seeking out higher education (or even full-time employment) and the long term effects this has on students.

Overall, I liked what Fulgham had to say about Christian involvement in public education. While understandably many churches are limited in what they can do within the public school system, Fulgham offers a number of facts and statistics that should led readers to think about what their churches could do to get more involved in students’ education. There were two drawbacks I ran into with this. This first is that much of the practical information seemed to center around elementary students. This makes a great deal of sense since many of the problems, as Fulgham’s research clearly shows, happens by age nine. What I did have a problem with was her innuendos that white Christians were uninterested and uninvolved in public education. An example of this is where she asserts, “While many White evangelical Christians have avoided public schools other Christians– including Catholics, African Americans, Hispanics, and many Protestants- have been actively engaged in the work of quality education for the poor and minority children for decades.” Statements like this will undoubtedly turn off many evangelicals (not to mention Whites) to the otherwise good, supported, and academic information that she is offering.

I would suggest this book to the students at my college or the teachers in the local public school system with the caveat that there are some heavily slanted racial and doctrinal underpinnings that the reader will have to deal with. My advice would be to set these aside temporarily and to delve instead into the solid, useable areas of the book where the author is not trying to further her own biases. This is a good book academically speaking, unfortunately like many books of its ilk; it carries with it a bit of baggage.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Brazos Press a division of Baker Publishing through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Evangelical Theology: A Review

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

Michael Bird has endeavored to (and has been successful in) create a unique system of theology that is highly applicable to his specific audience in his newest book Evangelical Theology. Dr. Bird received his PhD from the University of Queensland and is a theology lecturer at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission and The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective.

It ought to be noticed, before we as reviewers go too far afield, that Bird wrote this book for the benefit of a specific audience. The intended student or pastor using this text was meant to be from the evangelical churches that embrace the general patterns of belief and practice of the cardinal points of evangelicalism. Bird refers to the examples given by Alister McGrath as the basis for this premise:

-The supreme authority of Scripture in leading a Christian Life

-Jesus Christ as incarnate God and the Savior of humanity

-Lordship of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life

-A need for personal conversion

With these points of interest, audience, and delimitations Bird has developed a well formulated treatise. What he sets out to do, and accomplishes, is to strike a balance between biblical exposition and the on-going theological debates on Christian-living and application. In a genre filled with topical or author based analyses and highly specialized exegetical writing, Bird finds a happy middle. Now I am uncertain if he has truly written a work that is totally accessible to the layman unless his definition is limited to college (if not graduate) level readers . He does indeed breakdown his ideas very clearly and in a logical manner, but the language and structure of the book is far more oriented towards an academic reader.

What I perhaps appreciated the most is how Bird attempted to be the middleman to the growing population of evangelical churches who embrace the worldly views to such an extent that they actually bend scripture around the values non-Christians already have. One such position is the “come as you are” motif that has become popular especially through some branches of emergent or hipster churches which sometimes take the grace of God and turn it into an excuse to live life however they prefer giving more glory to themselves than to God. While it seems unlikely that he will bring such churches to a fundamentalist viewpoint, he has given them some solid ground with which to make biblical decisions.

For those of his readers who which to delve further into the topics he is delineating, Bird has provided copious footnotes to both explain challenging concepts and to offer other avenues of knowledge. In addition to this, Bird has offered some top-shelf works as further readings to many of the major sections of his book. In his attempt to strike a median between academic and mainstream, Bird has fallen heavily on the academic side. He has presented it however in a fashion that will stretch (but not break) the enthusiastic, well-educated lay-reader.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan Academic through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Why Study History: A Review

Augustine

Augustine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

          Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, by John Fea, is a useful and insightful book into how the fields of history and theology intermingle. The book, written primarily for History students, explores the ideas of how history can, and is, looked at through the lens of theology. It also does the opposite by trying to help the reader appreciate theology by looking at it as a historian does. The book gives many tools for thinking about history and theology in these ways, and it accomplishes this in an interesting and purposeful way.

Perhaps one of the most useful areas of this book for theologians comes early on when Fea gets to reader to think about the many ways people encounter the past today. It is amazing to think of all that has come before us, and how any subtle shift in those events could have radically changed our current situation. The book doesn’t get sci-fi or metaphysical at this point, but instead directs the readers’ attention to how every event in the past interacts with each other to form the world that we are currently living in. When we give ourselves time to think about this, the idea is awe-inspiring.

Too often we thrust our current values or perceptions as correct in regards to history. Fea points out to us that too often the facts that we have assumed are true can radically change when new details or information comes out. It is our responsibility, therefore, to enter the past for the purpose of making sense of people, places, and values that are different than our own. Our idea therefore that history is  fixed or stagnate is woefully misplaced.

As a Christian, one of the ideas that I found interesting in this book was issue of providence. If God does have a plan for us, then it seems likely that there must be some pattern to it in history. Fea examines many of the major works and schools of thought on this issue. This concept makes history have a whole new influence in the discussion of theology when we stop to think that if God has a master plan and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) then we should be able to discern, to a greater or lesser degree, how He has affected history.

It is clear that Fea supports a Christian perspective of history and states that historians should have “an adequate theological and biblical understanding.” He brings to light such issues as the difficulty of understanding historical figures such as Nero and Adolf Hitler without a definitive understanding of the concept of sin. On the other hand, he warns us if historians are to write ethically about what happened in history, “they should do so with caution so that preaching does not trump historical interpretation.” Additionally, he berates self-professed historians that use Sunday school proof-texting or moral platitudes as their basis for historical analysis.

In all, this was a very insightful book with a clear direction and purpose. There are spots in the book where the lengthy explanations, though useful to a student of history, could be a bit dry for the lay-reader. It should be considered; however, that this book was intended for History students and not pastors and theologians. Nonetheless, anyone taking the Bible and biblical history serious will find many useful tools in the textbook.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Baker Academic through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

Discipleshift: A Review

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

The book Discipleshift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington is a well-written, well-organized book that will prove useful not only to the individual who is examining his own life, but also to the pastor who is re-evaluating the vision for his church.

It wasn’t until reading this book that I ever thought of the breakdown of Christians into different categories of development. Of course, I realized that different people were at different levels, but I never really broke it down. That’s exactly what Discipleshift does: It breaks down these different levels showing the church leader how to address the issues of a person in any given category and how to give that person tools so that they can mature in Christ.

There are many books out there that deal with the fundamental issue of raising up a team and training them and then having those team members start their own teams. I occasionally get irritated with authors that point this out in excruciating detail but never tell you how to raise them up or train them. Books like that tell you to pick good leaders, but rarely tell you how to identify them. They tell you that, as a church vision-caster, they have conversations and meetings as they develop, but they only tell you then end result or success story. Discipleshift fills in a number of those blanks.

The book follows a natural development that helps the reader identify the maturity level of Christians by looking for specific tells or dialogue. Once a person’s place is identified the book describes the struggles that person may be facing and how to specifically equip them to better servants of Christ. It then goes through the process of building them up and sending them out to be a leader for others.

Each section of the book has within it with three helpful elements. The first is the “Ask Dr. Coleman” section. Dr. Coleman is a Senior Professor of Discipleship and Evangelism at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He has both his Ph.D. and D.D. and authored one of the seminal evangelical texts “The Master Plan of Evangelism” used in seminaries across the country. Dr. Colman’s unique take on each of these chapters puts the information given into a real-life application that will help readers see both the connections between ideas and the immediate applicability of that information. The second element is a simple summary that allows readers to review and identify key points in the text. Lastly, are the “Stories of Effectiveness” which are motivational narratives about people who have had positive results in the areas discussed.

This book is neither clinical nor meant to pump up the reader to try yet another model for church growth. This simply is a book meant to fill in the gaps so that we, as leaders, can have some practical, applicable tools to get our congregants from newborns in Christ, craving spiritual milk, to a leaders that can equip those around them to be true disciples of Christ.

 

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

 

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

 

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

 

 

Church History Volume1: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation A Review

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

There was only one overwhelming problem with Everett Ferguson’s book Church History Volume1: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. He waited until I was out of school to write it.

Right from the onset, I was impressed with this book. I remember, from my years back in college in the 80s, my history texts being filled with double rows of tiny type. I remember authors drowning on-and-on with circuitous sentences riddled with both archaic terms and unpronounceable jargon. Here instead is a book with beautiful graphics, relevant illustrations and photos, clearly identifiable, related materials, and an obviously coherent structure. I actually leaned over to my wife while reading this, who recently finished her advance degree in education, and she was shocked at how much thought, about the way students learn, was given to the structure of this book.

The wording of this book is as clear and well-organized as the format and the typeface. It is an unusually comfortable book to read. The author and the publisher obviously took time to proof the sheets in a way that allows the eye to flow over the page. This allows for both a faster and more relaxed reading of the text and therefore giving the student a higher retention of the material.. Additionally, the numerous maps, illustrations, and photos were place in locations in which to optimize their effectiveness. The visuals used were large, clear, and always relevant to the topic being discussed.

Ferguson writes in a clear, professional style that is both accessible and academically challenging. He uses a recursive structure from chapter-to-chapter that is useful in seeing how a given instance in history had multiple repercussions on the modern day church. The only challenge to this is that he early on develops an information base and then steadily builds on it. The problem would be if professors skipped around in the book (not all that uncommon of a practice) they would need to be careful to explain some of the terminology or references that the author is making.

Oddly enough, one of my favorite parts of this books was the shaded margins that the author uses to add relevant but disconnected material. In this section, the author puts in quotes, verses, little know facts, and other forms of enrichment material that wasn’t necessary to understand the narrative of the text but was nonetheless interesting and engaging. When there wasn’t much in the way of additional material the author would occasionally use this space to overlap pictures part in and part out of the text proper. This, in combination with the myriad other formatting issues, makes this book perfect for the visual learner. It was a great pleasure to read a book that written by an author aware enough about metacognition to format a book in a manner that facilitates better learning.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Zondervan through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.