2009 Reviews

The Sacred Echo The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think Margaret Feinberg is a fine writer. Very passionate, real, honest and raw. I liked this book quite a bit. I think she has much potential but I started to compare her to my all time favorite author….Philip Yancey and became somewhat disappointed.

What I do like about her is that she opens herself up and let’s us look honestly at her life (her struggles, her joys, her pains, her disappointments, etc). I do like that throughout the whole book she doesn’t say “this is how prayer is supposed to be, look like, or feel like.” She gives several “sacred echoes” and tells how they have reverberated through her life and how she has become more adept at hearing those echoes and thereby knowing God (and herself) and little better.

Also, she doesn’t give pat answers as to why God answers some prayers but not others. She doesn’t say that prayers are not answered because of a lack of faith. She realizes that all prayers are not answered, or answered in our timing, or in the way we see best. But her pleading throughout the book is to not stop praying.

A couple of the quotes that really have stuck with me: “Are you moving too quickly to recognize the ways God is speaking to you?” and “Sometimes I think the place of in-between is one of the most gnarly, dark places in life because you aren’t fully here and you aren’t fully there.” From the back cover: When God really wants to get your attention, he doesn’t just whisper something once. He echoes.

How many times have we heard someone say something to us, then heard it in a message, and then it has been something we have read in scripture as part of reading plan. Do we blow these things off, or realize that maybe, just maybe, God is trying to get our attention – and in the process draw us closer to Himself and have our heart beat for what his heart beats for. And for helping us understand this in plain, honest, heartfelt language Margaret is to be read and thanked. She is a good guide who will only get better with time.

The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective. by Andy Andrews

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Legend of Bagger Vance. A movie (I know, I know – a book too) that I watched several years ago inspired me to read this book. It’s funny how things remind us and make us notice other things. And that’s what this book is about. Noticing. Noticing the things that other people overlook and miss. Noticing the things that, if revealed, could bring incredible healing and help to a person who needs a new perspective.

The Noticer, is a single story made up of several mini-stories all revolving around an old man (is he black?, white?, Chinese?, Hispanic? All we know for sure is that he is old) named Jones. There are several peculiarities about Jones that make him unique –he always seems to be around, watching and waiting for an opportunity to speak into a person’s life and he carries around with him a beat-up, old suitcase. No one actually knows Jones but, yet, he is an instant friend to all that he meets and becomes their best friend, a confidant even, who, “will tell them the truth and include a healthy dose of perspective” because true friends do not just accept their friends “as they are.” And that’s Jones gift to Orange Beach, Alabama. He tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And the difference makes all the difference in their lives.

Mr. Andrews has given us engaging stories and memorable statements. For example, “everybody wants to be on the mountain top…mountain tops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain.” Yet, how many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, simply want to live “on the mountain top” yet it takes someone else giving us the perspective that growth happens in the “lush soil” of the valley. And again, “….a person could lose everything, chasing nothing.” A sentiment that many of us may agree with and think, “yeah, that’s true” but it takes the story of a man getting killed because of chasing a hat into traffic to see its reality.

However, in one chapter the reader will “notice” that Mr. Andrews basically takes concepts found in a recent popular book and condenses it into a single chapter in his book. Not just concepts but actual ideas and phrases. This is a good thing because you can get the gist of another book in a short chapter but also leaves us with the impression that Andy Andrews is the originator of these “perspectives.” And these perspectives and the ability to notice them are at the core of his book. These are slight problems, but only slight and don’t take away from the overall effectiveness of what Mr. Andrews sets out to achieve.

The Noticer is a good mix of life lessons and story-telling. Andy Andrews achieves something great for those of us who don’t gravitate towards fiction and, especially, “christian” fiction (even fiction that teaches us life and leadership lessons). Mr. Andrews has inspired me to take the time to slow down, to notice more, to be a truer friend and plant the seeds of perspective(s) in the lives of others.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Reviewer Blogger team go here: http://brb.thomasnelson.com/ for more info.

UnChristian America: Living with Faith in a Nation That Was Never Under God UnChristian America: Living with Faith in a Nation That Was Never Under God by Michael Babcock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Who lost America? In the following pages I’ll present an answer we don’t like to hear: America was never ours to lose.” (Intro – xiv).

Michael Babcock is professor of humanities at Liberty University and author of UnChristian America. His book is surprising for a number of reasons two of which include that he tastefully, but forcefully, sets his sights on conservative evangelical thinking that is not rooted in Scripture and calls them out on it. Second, he is a professor at Liberty University (the place that the late Jerry Falwell built). This second fact alone seems to lend at least some credibility to his work.

The first chapter delves into the history of groups such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. Plus he talks about his own history with these groups.

Chapters two through five (the bulk of the book) is where he strikes quickly and with force. He talks about the “Founding Fathers” and shows with clarity something that many of us have known for a while: many of the “Founding Fathers” who conservative evangelical christians look at to prove our country being founded as a christian nation would not be considered evangelicals by our “standards” today. One salient point that Professor Babcock highlights is that Scripture needs to set the tone for Christians not history or culture. When we look to Scripture we see only one nation being called out by God for a divine purpose (Israel) – and now, according to I Pet., the church. America, Russia, or any other nation could never be a “Christian” nation in that sense. “In an effort to ‘take back America’ evangelicals have become warriors on the losing side of culture.” (Pg. 62).

Chapter 3 hammers Ronald Reagan. In fact Babcock says this, “But in the end, Reagan was never one of us. Not really. Not in his fundamental understanding of the nature of God and humanity. Reagan drew from the deep taproot of American mythology, not biblical truth.” (Pg. 78). He is drawing on speeches from Reagan and how Reagan (and others) have “Christianized humanistic values – myths of utopia, self-reliance, and pragmatism.” (Pg. 68). And now what was once allowed to co-exist as paradoxical is now an open war of values. And what does Jesus offer instead of the empires of Rome, Marx or America? Sacrifice and denial of self. These ideals do not set well with a country that is defined by its westward expansion that was marked with rationalism, materialism and humanism. Which leads Babcocks conclusion that, “Evangelicals have greatly underestimated how long this battle has been raging.” (Pg. 109). The tear did not begin in 1962, or in the 70’s with Roe vs. Wade but much, much earlier to the point that America was “never ours to lose” because we never “had” it in the first place.

Mr. Babcock then gives five great principals for Christians in regards to governments/authority. First, God’s sovereignty over the political realm. Second, submit ourselves to rulers. And third, and seemingly very hard for evangelicals right now, recognize the importance that God places on honor and respect (Titus 3:1-2). Fourth, God’s standards don’t change. Finally, our civic responsibilities are always defined by godly living. As Babcock writes, “Political freedom and economic opportunity are wonderful things, but that’s not what God desire for all people” and “The political instinct – to win, dominate, manipulate, and control. Kingdom living requires gentleness and humility, self-effacement instead of self-promotion.”

A few pages later he makes telling statements that Christians in the first century knew that their survival didn’t depend on political solutions or better laws. They were a group of people, a “moral minority” who had a faith in Jesus and what he accomplished. Yet, Christians today what to say we are the “moral majority” and we need better laws, Christian this or that if we want our “christian” nation to survive. When christians have lived on the fringes and margins they have always fared better (in terms of being in and for the world what we have been called to and of by God).

The strangest chapter in his brilliant book is the next to last chapter. “What’s worth fighting for?” I agree with his idea that life is worth fighting for. But for Professor Babcock it is THE issue that christians must not compromise, back down, or away from. It is odd given the whole nature and tenor of his book up to this point. To Professor Babcock, champion life is being against abortion. No compromising, no relabeling or redefining terms. He opposes “culture of life” or “consistent pro-life ethic” and does not like finding ‘common ground.’ He says, “the biblical approach refuses to translate life into a political platform on health care or the environment.” (Pg. 191). I understand what he is getting at, and even agree with it to some degree but health care (or lack of it) is a life issue, what we are leaving to our kids and grandkids in terms of a physical world is a life issue. Abortion is, obviously, a life issue. But it is not the only moral issue out there. And it is not the only life issue either. UnChristian America is not where it was 60 years ago. Abortion, is, unfortunately, here to stay. I am pro-life. But I will seek to find common ground (I believe I can be committed to life and seek ways to reduce abortions and to speak for a pro-life ethic). The moment we say “only pro-life, no compromises” but then help to counsel girls to give their babies up for adoption rather than aborting them we have in fact compromised our position.

His finally chapter gets back to a portion of scripture that a lot of evangelical, conservative Christians don’t want to touch….the Sermon on the Mount (which happens to be my favorite portion of Scripture!). He says, “It really matters that evangelicals have been so deaf to the great Sermon Jesus preached.” (pg. 199).

Michael Babcock gives to the christian community a wonderful book that will probably be largely ignored by many Christians (especially of the conservative type) and trashed by many Christians too (again, especially those conservative christians). This book hits too hard, too deep, too close to conservative christian golden idols (primarily the one called America). Read this book. Digest it. Ponder and think about it. And then, like i intend to do, read it again!

View all my reviews >>


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