Category Archives: Book Reviews

“I Am Not But I Know I Am” by Louie Giglio

“I Am Not But I Know I Am” by Louie Giglio

 

There are very few men who have the unique gift of letting you feel good about yourself while telling you the truth.  Christianity is all about the good news of who Jesus is, what He has done, and what that can mean for us.  One of the things that keep people from experiencing the fullness of the Good News is their own misconception of themselves.  We believe that God needs us.  We believe that we have something to bring to the table.  We believe we have earned God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness, etc.  God’s Word is going to tell us over and over again that we are not good enough, we don’t measure up, and cannot come close to earning God’s love and forgiveness on our best day.

Naturally, the Christian message can sometimes be a downer.  When we think we’re killing it, we get dragged down to the reality that it’s all filthy rags compared to the actual standard of holiness and perfection.  Louie, as a voice who proclaims the Good News on a large stage, is one of the few men who can look you in the face and tell you how far off the mark you are, but make you feel good about it at the same time.  Louie is biblically grounded, meaning he doesn’t shift the meaning of the Scriptures to make people like him, so he talks about sin and the consequences of living outside of God’s commands.  But Louie always points us back to grace.  Half of the Good News is that we fall short and are deserving of Hell and separation from God.  The other half of the Good News is that God chooses to save us.  He chooses to use us despite our overwhelming flaws and defects.  He chooses to enter into relationship with us and even invites us to be used by Him in His plan of saving others.

In the book “I Am Not But I Know I Am,” Louie makes us excited about how small we are.  He makes us feel good about how insignificant we are.  He makes us happy about our inability to measure up to God’s standards.  He opens the veil and allows us to see God for who He really is.  The point of life is not how good we are, how successful, or how beautiful – the point is God.  One of Louie’s greatest gifts is communicating deep, theological truths in a way that we can understand.  This is probably the main reason why the Passion Conferences are so successful.  Anyone who can get college students to understand the deeper things of God while telling them not to think of themselves to much is truly gifted.  Louie’s book is a great read, and I would highly recommend it to all ages.  I am thankful to the Lord for how He continues to use Louie Giglio for the glory of His name.

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“The Blessed Church” by Robert Morris

“The Blessed Church” by Robert Morris

 

Robert Morris’s book is a great story about one church – his church.  There can be no denying the real, tangible truth of God using Morris and his vision for a church structure in a way that is both rare and inspiring.  If you like stories about how churches got their starts and how the leadership in those churches formed their respective visions for ministry then this is a book that you’ll enjoy.  If you’re looking for some practical answers for structuring your church or casting a vision for growth and maturity – you might be disappointed.

I don’t think that Morris’s intent in writing this book as to give an outline for how every church should be run.  I think he was simply wanting to let everyone know how he was led to do church, and hopefully inspire others in some way.  There is very little in the way of revolutionary ideas that can be translated into any context.  He does give a structure that could fit in some contexts, but little that can be seen as “across the board” type structures.

My biggest disappointment with this book was a lack of biblical foundation.  One would hope that if an author was looking to give a blueprint for what a blessed church is, he would start with God’s Word.  A truly blessed church does not follow a specific structure or have a certain budget or membership role.  A truly blessed church sees that value in God’s Word and His glory no matter what the income or numerics are.

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who like to hear stories of how churches began.  It’s an interesting story with some pretty amazing results.  On a whole, I would not recommend this book to a struggling pastor who is feeling stuck in a seemingly dead-end ministry.  This book could potentially cause some undue covetousness which is not the author’s intent.  Morris’s structure at Gateway works wonderfully for him and his congregation, it’s not supposed to work everywhere.  The same God who Morris gives credit for the blessing of a large, successful megachurch is the same God who gets credit for the loving, modest congregation.  May the Lord continue to govern His Church as He sees fit.

“Greater” by Steven Furtick

“Greater” by Steven Furtick

 

“Greater = the life-altering understanding that God is ready to accomplish a kind of greatness in your life that is entirely out of human reach.  Beyond Steve Jobs. Beyond what you see in yourself on your best day.  But exactly what God has seen in you all along.”

 

This is the closest thing to a definition of “greater” that Steven Furtick could give us.  Unfortunately, He doesn’t really mean it.  It is clear that Furtick has charisma and is a gifted communicator, but that simply doesn’t cut it.  It does not seem too much to ask for a definition of the word that you will throw around all over the book.  At one point, “greater” is becoming rich, influential, and successful beyond your wildest dreams while at other points “greater” is simply sucking it up and enduring the nightmare that has been your job, marriage, or life.  And it all depends on you.

I’m really not out to get Furtick. I had high hopes in reading this book, but there is nothing concrete.  There is no firm foundation for the readers to stand on.  As much as Furtick might try to sweet talk his way out of it, he leaves us (or introduces us) to a god who is distant and moody.  A god who plays with our emotions at times in hopes that we will somehow get it right.  A god who is waiting for us to get our act together, otherwise he simply can’t or won’t work.  Furtick’s god is not the God of the Bible.

Furtick’s book is misleading at best.  He gives no clear definition for the word he uses throughout the book and even as the title.  There can be no practical help when there is no practical use for the word.  I can use the word “love” all day long, but if “love” starts to mean something other than “love” it ceases to be “love.”  Furtick wants everyone to feel like God has called them to be Steve Jobs, but that’s simply not the case.  Furtick, to his credit, does not claim that everyone can be the next Steve Jobs, but in ambiguously using “greater” he wants you to think you can.  He’s a motivational speaker using God as the means by which you become successful in your own eyes.

Furtick’s book tries to impress us with stories of overcoming obstacles, letting go of past failures, and becoming what we’ve always dreamed of becoming.  He claims to have biblical basis for his practically non-practical approach to faith and life, but the misses the point.  A point that Furtick could not agree with, but one that he fights against in his book.  Jesus says in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”  I don’t think that Steven Furtick would have a problem with Jesus saying this.  Steven might even point to this verse when people come to him and ask him why burning their plows, digging ditches, and striking the water didn’t work for them.  No one wants to be the servant.  No one has dreams of being the servant.  No one forsakes everything to be the servant.  The focus cannot be on us.  God’s work cannot be dependent on our faith or action.  “Our God is in the heavens and He does whatever pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:3, emphasis added)  Our call is to pursue Christ, not pursue an ambiguous dream of something “greater.”

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“Christ Our Mediator” by CJ Mahaney

Christ Our Mediator by CJ Mahaney

 

We walk into the mediation room unkempt and unrepentant.  We know there is we are guilty of a great offense, but we’ve convinced ourselves our hands are clean.  The other party sits across from us at the table.  His holiness and perfection causes our pride to swell within us.  We know we have no shot at the case ending in our favor, but we persist in going on with the mediation.  Our Mediator stands in the gap and begins to present both sides.  He is at once like us, but not exactly like us.  He begins to walk us through the dispute, starting with the majesty and authority of the One sitting across the table.  He finishes our long list of defamations, blasphemies, and rebellions.  There really isn’t much to mediate.  We are obviously guilty.  We just wanted to stick it to Him one last time.  Then we are shocked, stunned, dumbfounded when He pronounces the final verdict.

 

We are absolutely guilty and the Mediator will take the punishment that we deserve.

 

This is the grand portrait that CJ Mahaney paints for us in his book Christ Our Mediator.  With a sincere humility and absolute devotion to Christ and His Word, CJ Mahaney paints a picture of the Gospel that pushes back against the entitlement age in which we live.  You don’t have to look far to find a religious teaching that would have us believe that Jesus stands in the gap for us to excuse our sin and calm an overreacting, unreasonable judge who has obviously misunderstood us and our motives.  Mahaney pulls no punches in delivering the transcendent truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: God is holy, we are guilty, and Christ has made a way for us.

It should be pointed out that Mahaney is clearly writing this book to believers in Christ.  And for the believer, it will be a breath of fresh air.  It is not necessarily just for believers, but some of the language used could be misunderstood if the audience were thought to be the general public.  I would highly recommend this book to any child of God.  It is a warm blanket for the soul, and CJ Mahaney is a great friend to have for the journey.

Book Review: “Real Church in a Social-Network World” by Leonard Sweet

“Real Church in a Social-Network World” by Leonard Sweet

What is the greatest longing of the human heart?  What are the fundamental elements of humanity that transcend time and culture?  Leonard Sweet seeks to answer these difficult questions in his book “Real Church in a Social-Network World.”  Sweet goes into great detail of how the longings of the human heart are communicated by what we pursue as a culture.  He uses the rise of social-networking as a silent cry for relationship.  Sweet also tries to distance the life of Jesus from the non-relational elements of the church that tend to love philosophical concepts rather than people.

Sweet does a tremendous job in emphasizing his points about the need for Christians to pursue deep and meaningful relationships both with God and with each other.  Sweet is obviously well read and attempts to pull several different perspectives to prove his point.  Sweet makes the transcendence of relationships across moral and cultural lines foundational to his argument by pulling from Jewish rabbis and mystics as well as quoting theologians, scholars, and philosophers.

Sweet’s writing style is smooth and engaging if you don’t mind a few big words here and there.  And he expounds on his points without seeming repetitive or dry in his delivery.  It is clear that Sweet’s desire is to encourage believers to live lives worthy of the gospel as Sweet sees it.

There is, however, a huge problem with Sweet’s conclusions about the nature of the Gospel, Christ, God’s relationship to mankind, the Bible, and ultimately the definition of “Christian.”  Sweet tries very hard to convince the reader that there should be a definite and absolute divorce between what we will call “doctrine” and the follower of Christ.  Sweet even goes so far as to say that truth is not singular and cannot be essentially known; it is, rather, misty and multiple (Chapter 1: Orthodoxy and Paradoxy; para. 2).  If we are to say what Sweet will not, essentially, Jesus did not come to fulfill the law but to abolish it.  Jesus is very clear that there is truth and He is it.  This is not a copout that suggests we should deny doctrine for the sake of relationships.  Paul, a devout follower of Christ, was one of the foremost teachers of doctrine.  The book of Romans is essentially the first book of systematic theology.

Sweet tries to encourage believers to neglect the divisive “doctrine” for the sake of establishing relationships and an “experience” that will make outsiders feel judged or shunned.  It would appear that Sweet wants to push the church away from graceless, judgmental, better-than-thou Pharisaism, and I am in full agreement.  But when Sweet starts uprooting this life of grace from the soil of truth, he is misrepresenting the kingdom Christ came to instill in the hearts of His people.  Christ absolutely lived a life of grace sharply rebuking the Pharisees who trusted their own righteousness to save them, but that does not mean that He stood for relationship over truth.  Christ message to the prostitutes and tax collectors was not simply an invitation to relationship but an invitation to holiness.  Not a holiness imputed by men after years of hypocritical self-righteousness, but a holiness imputed by the only One who perfectly met all the requirements of the Law.

Leonard Sweet’s book ultimately calls Christians to live lives of full, deep relationships, and I am in full agreement.  At the same time, we must weigh his words carefully.  Anyone who tries to divide the truth from the relationship Christ exemplified for us must have his words tested by the fullness of the Word.  May it be that the Holy Spirit awakens our hearts to the truth of who He is and may that awakening drive us to love and serve those around us.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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