The Grace Outpouring: Blessing Others Through Prayer by Roy Godwin with Dave Roberts

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 until July 31st. The Audiobook is $2.99 with the purchase of the kindle edition.
Summary: A wandering, but very encouraging story of how obedience can be used by God.

I know that some dismiss books that are written ‘with…’.  These are books where a person has a story to tell but does not have the time (and usually skill) to tell it well in book form.  Whenever I have hear automatic dismissal I think of the work that John and Elizabeth Sherrill did in bring the stories of Brother Andrew, Corrie Ten Boom, David Wilkerson and many others where their names did not clearly appear in the ‘with…’ section.

I do want to say clearly, that while I am supportive of people like the Sherrills and Dave Roberts in this book, I think these cowriters need to always be acknowledged and Christian publishers in particular need to stop the practice of hidden ghost writers.

In the Grace Outpouring, Roy Godwin tells the story of how God has used him and the Ffald-y-Brenin retreat center in Wales to bless others and bring God’s power to the people that visit the retreat center, the community around the retreat center, and even people that have never been there.

Testimony stories like this are an important part of Christian literature.  Sometimes I can forget how important a part they are.  These types of books are usually not great literary works, but instead are simple narratives of Gods work in normal people’s lives.

In Roy Godwin’s example, God choose a broken business man and evangelist and his wife to lead a retreat center into becoming a ‘house of prayer.’  Early in the book he focuses on how they prayed blessings over individuals and God directly worked in their lives to bring about salvation, spiritual and emotional healing (and later in the book physical healing.)

The emphasis at the front end, and throughout the book, is that Godwin has felt led to pray for people’s blessing, not for them to ‘hit bottom’ or get convicted of sin.  He is still convinced of the reality of sin, just not his own role in praying for conviction of sin.

The early method of evangelism in the book was to simply pray that people be drawn to Ffald-y-Brenin. Then when people came to ask about it, they would be given a cup of tea, offered a tour of the grounds which would end in the chapel. Then Roy Godwin (or whoever was giving the tour) would ask if they could pray a blessing over the visitors and then leave them alone in the chapel as God dealt with them. This method clearly was relying on God to be the primary actor and not on any particular skill of the evangelist, which is why they particularly made it a rule to leave the people alone after the blessing.

The book is a bit disjointed overall. After a chapter about praying the blessing, then there are chapters about Roy’s background and coming to the center, how a prayer for the blessing of the community became a world wide movement of prayer, sections on physical healing, building a cross and other acts of obedience and then the final couple chapters that were more about how others could also participate in there own way.

What I appreciated is that Godwin is clearly never saying, ‘this is what worked for us, so you should try it as well.’  It is the opposite.  This is a book on obedience, doing what God says as he ask and then only later will you see how God weaves together a plan that we never could have envisioned for ourselves.  Godwin is also saying that following God usually means acting out of weakness and in ways that might seem odd or not tried before.

I am not a charismatic believer, but I have spent enough time working with International Renewal Ministries and the Pastors Prayer Summits in Chicago that I understand the power of prayer.  My time with Pastor’s Prayer Summits was some of the most important times of my spiritual life. I believe that the time is setting me up for something later.  So I am encouraged by this book to believe that God can act through unimportant individuals and groups.

But just as encouraging is the fact that this is an ecumenically focused book. Godwin is clearly of the charismatic stream, but I think also Anglican.  He is supportive of a wide group of Christians in the book and seems to be intentionally trying to encourage ecumenical prayer in the best sense of that idea.

The phrase House of Prayer I think has been a bit co-opted by the Kansas City based International House of Prayer and there have been some problems there with some bad leadership and cultish behavior.  At the same time I know some very good leaders that are connected with IHOP. Roy Godwin, while mentioning IHOP is not in that same stream.  Because he is in a very rural area of Wales and they have few staff at his retreat center, that type of 24 hour a day prayer was never practical.  Instead his vision was more about encouraging prayer and being a missional community.

The theology behind Godwin’s house of prayer work I fully support.  It is dependent on God, ecumenical, outreach oriented, interested in being a part of the local community, non-confrontational, and open to God’s direction.

As I was finishing up this book I started Thomas Keating’s Intimacy With God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer.  In both I was struck by similar themes of the importance of trinitarian theology to prayer, the importance of submission to the direction of the Holy Spirit, the importance of prayer to knowing God and the focus of the Christian life being the actual on going life of the christian, not the short term ‘decision for Christ’.

Two books written nearly 20 years apart, one from a Catholic monk and one from a lay Protestant prayer leader both are identifying as one of the weaknesses of the church a modernist concept of God as a distant actor that we know about, but do not actually know personally.  From that point they are very different, one talking about a particular type of prayer and one talking about a missional community of prayer.  But the initial diagnosis of the problem is very similar.

It is one of the reason I so often say that we need to be reading widely within the church.

Grace Outpouring is a book I would encourage you to pick up and be encouraged by.  Even if you are not completely comfortable with either prayer or the Charismatic stream of Christianity, it is good to pick it up and see that God can, and does work in many different ways.

(By the way, I know many that have never participated or felt the presence of God in the ways described in this book, but are some of the most spiritually mature people I know.  Do not take my words here as suggesting that there is a spiritual maturity connected with the Charismatic stream of Christianity. There might be spiritual maturity, but it is focused on the obedience, not the Charismatic activity.)

The Grace Outpouring: Blessing Others Through Prayer by Roy Godwin with Dave Roberts Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook – Audiobook is discounted to $2.99 with purchase of Kindle Book

The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer with Anna Haggard

Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99.

The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer with Anna HaggardTakeaway: Serving God and others can be its own reward, and that is the root of the spiritual danger.

I have spent my whole adult working career in the Christian non-profit world.  I have witnessed a number of situations where there has been burnout, mistreatment of staff (in the name of doing good), failure of leadership, leaders ending badly and more.

Peter Greer is the CEO of Hope International, a micro-credit non-profit working in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, South American and Eastern Europe. In a very readable, and story laden book, Greer (and his co-author Anna Haggard) walk through 14 different spiritual dangers that particularly affect those that are trying to do good, especially doing good in Christ’s name.

I remember reading an article while in grad school that people in service professions, especially those that view themselves as doing good, can actually be more likely to lie and mislead those around them because they feel they deserve it or because their good works off-set any ‘small mistakes’ that they make.  That article had a lot of influence on the ways I thought about doing good work.  This is only one of the areas that Greer mentions, but he does give a lot of examples of how we can miss what we are actually striving for in the process of doing good.

All Hallows’ Eve: A Novel by Charles Williams

All Hallows' Eve: A Novel by Charles Williams book reviewSummary: A ghost story about the nature of good and evil.

Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, the famous literary group that included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Charles Williams books have been picked up by Open Media, an ebook publisher that has focused on 20th century literary fiction that is out of print. Open Media has a daily sale with five sale books and a free public domain books. Over the past couple months I have picked up two of Charles Williams’ books for $1.99. All Hallow’s Eve is the first I have read (and the last book he wrote.)

When I read review of Charles Williams’ books they are most often described as odd or strange. Williams was interested in the supernatural. While I would not consider All Hallow’s Eve all that odd of a book, it is a ghost story. Which I think is an odd choice for Christian fiction. Charles Williams was not writing ‘Christian’ fiction. The category did not really exist in the 1930-1940s when he was writing. He was writing fiction and he was a Christian. His faith is evident in the story, but it is not explicit like Lewis’ fiction but more a part of the worldview of the author like Tolkien’s fiction was.

JI Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken

I am reposting this 2015 review because the kindle edition is on sale for $2.99
Takeaway: JI Packer has focused on the church more than his own career and that is surprisingly rare for church leaders. Even when I disagree, there is much to commend about the way he has engaged the issues.

I have read several of JI Packer’s books but I really did not know anything about him. I knew he taught at Regent College University and was an Anglican. But beside those facts everything else that I had assumed about him was wrong.

JI Packer grew up in a working class home before showing his strong academic skills and winning a scholarship to Oxford. There he quickly became a Christian and soon was pursuing training to become a pastor. But after spending a year teaching between his undergrad and graduate degrees, teaching has always been a part of his focus.

As was traditional in earlier generations, Packer served as a pastor early in his career before becoming a full time seminary professor. Packer has always primarily focused on the training of pastors and that has meant that he has not taken teaching positions that were as high profile as he could have.

After several years teaching and writing, Packer became the director of Latimer House. Latimer House was designed to give Packer and others space to write and think and speak without giving them teaching responsibilities. It seems similar to a Christian version of the idea of Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton that was initially directed by J Robert Oppenheimer and included luminaries such as Albert Einstein.

At Latimer, Packer was a prominent figure in British Christianity. But the pace of speaking and writing about current events and the huge number of committees and study groups that Packer was asked to serve on left him exhausted. After nearly 10 years he left Latimer and went back to teaching (after a brief stint as a college president). Packer taught at Trinity College and then at Regent University in Canada.

In addition to his teaching, Packer has been known for his work around the bible. He was the general editor for the ESV bible, a huge undertaking. Packer has been known as a key figure in the inerrancy debates and a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Packer has also been known for his ecumenical work. Packer worked hard early in his career to keep the Evangelical wing of the Anglican church inside the Anglican church and has been active in ecumenical work outside of the Anglican church world. Later Packer played an important part in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statements. More recently Packer was dismissed from the Canadian Anglican church and helped to form what is now the Anglican Church in North America.

Ryken knows Packer well, has worked with him often, and respects him greatly. That admiration shows through clearly in the book and helps to make Packer a likeable figure throughout. Ryken resists a lot of analysis, which I think is a disservice to the book. He explicitly says he has made the choice to simply tell the story and illustrate Packer’s ideas, but it seems to me that part of the role of a biographer is to do the analysis.

Ryken was unable to avoid analysis on Packer’s writing style and methods. This was an unusual section for a biography. But given Ryken’s own background as a writer and literature professor, and Packer’s wide ranging writing, a long look at the themes and style of Packer’s writing was probably helpful. Ryken also is willing to say that although Packer is against topical sermons and for a strict exegetical preaching style, Packer’s beloved Puritans and other preaching heroes, as well as Packer are often topical in reality. (As an aside, I think it is interesting that Packer and Ryken’s book on the ESV advocate for a strict word for word translation style, but as One Bible Many Translations illustrates, the goal and the reality are wildly different.)

As much as this biography has helped me understand more about JI Packer, the the actual writing seems to be more clunky than I would expect from Ryken. The same phrases were repeated over and over again. Maybe this was more noticeable because I listened to it as an audiobook, but it was distracting. He also kept saying, ‘a random sample from his writing’ and then listing examples to prove a particular point. It was clearly not a random sample. I know this is a small point, but Ryken knows better than this and I can’t understand why he said this (at least a dozen times). The same with ‘it is not my purpose in this book to discuss X, but,…’. The result sounds like Ryken just did not spend enough time editing the book.

Ryken also heavily borrowed from Alister McGrath’s previous biography of Packer during the first section of the biography. Certainly McGrath and Ryken had different goals in their books, and Ryken was right to be citing McGrath when he was borrowing from him, but it seemed to me that it was a sign of inadequate preparation more than anything else. And in many ways it made me wish I had picked up McGrath’s biography instead, although it is almost 20 years old (and out of print) at this point.

Ryken divided this biography into three sections. The first section was the traditional narrative of Packer’s life. The second section was an attempt to illustrate who Packer was as a thinker and man. I think this was the weakest section of the book. The third section looked the main themes Packer’s work, his work around the bible, his academic study of Puritans, his work in the Anglican church, his theology, his thoughts and teaching on Preaching and the role of the Pastor among other topics.

The third section was helpful but uneven. I respect Packer and his work even though I have many areas of disagreement. And it is in this third section that the areas of disagreement comes up frequently.

Ryken is helpful in cataloguing his research, but that lack of analysis, and too much reliance on lists of data points really keeps this biography from being great. This will probably be the last full biography of Packer while he is still alive. Ryken interviewed him for the biography and those interviews featured prominently and were very helpful. But I think it will probably be only after Packer passes away that a full biography that can look at his life and legacy. There is certainly a place for biographies like this one. Biographers that know the subject well have great insight into their subjects. But more distant biographers also have greater objectivity.

JI Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

A copy of the audiobook was provided by for purposes of review.

Related Book Reviews


Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashid book reviewReviewed by Contributor Vikki Huisman.

A young Egyptian woman recounts her personal and political coming of age in this debut novel by Yasmine El Rashidi.

The reader meets the unnamed main character across three decades in Egypt: as a very young school girl, a college film student and then as a writer in modern day Egypt following Mubarak’s overthrow. Her father’s physical absence and her mother’s emotional absence dominate the writer’s life. As friends as relatives disappear through death, imprisonment, fleeing to America or just vanishing without a trace, she contemplates how absence and silence have defined her life.

Chronicle of a Last Summer is a gentle but heavy book. El Rashidi doesn’t heavily detail the violence, oppression or suffering the main character experiences throughout her life but the reader can feel it. The character’s cousin frequently chastises the young lady and his fellow citizens for not getting angry. Her uncle begs her to use her resources at the university and make a film that will make some noise, to serve as a rally cry for the Egyptian people but instead, she embraces the silence she’s always known and buries herself in her writing instead.

Kindle Unlimited Take Two

screenshot_71During the Amazon Prime Day sale last week I decided to take another run at Kindle Unlimited. There was a six month subscription to Kindle Unlimited for $45, which seemed like a fairly good deal.

In the week that I have used it again, I have decided that there are two related main problems with Kindle Unlimited and one good point. (My previous thoughts on Kindle Unlimited)

The Bad

Amazon is lousy at usability. Whether it is the Kindle Fire, their website or their apps, Amazon really needs to invest in designers. Amazon is successful because of low prices, free shipping and the ability to get pretty much anything. But for things like Kindle Unlimited, where the usage is really based on the ability to find the material you want to consume, Amazon’s lack of focus on usability is a serious issue. The biggest problem with the usability is actually finding the books you want to read. Kindle Unlimited is mostly self published books. There is plenty of content that is worth reading if you can find it. But there is a lot of work required to find good books. (Same problem with Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Music)

Credo: Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed by Hans von Balthasar

Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed by von Balthasar book reviewSummary: Brief exploration of the Apostles’ Creed by a significant 20th century Catholic theologian.

I have been interested in von Balthasar for a while. He is a significant trinitarian theologian of the mid 20th century and a good friend of the reformed theologian Karl Barth. I started reading Stephen Long’s book Saving Karl Barth, which is a joint biography of Barth and von Balthasar’s friendship. But I realized I didn’t know enough about von Balthasar’s theology. So I set it aside.

Credo is the first of von Balthasar’s books I have finished. I also have his book Prayer, which I started but have not finished. The book prayer has been praised by Eugene Peterson and a number of others as being one of the best books on prayer written.

Credo was not written as a book. But is a compilation of church newsletters articles about the Apostles’ Creed written in the year before his death. As a book it is very short. The introduction is a third of the book.

I did not grow up with Creeds. They are late additions to my faith. But I have been convinced that the creeds are important. Earlier this year I talked my small group into doing a video about the Apostles’ Creed. The one we did was a shortened form of a 12 hour (way too long) documentary. But at 2 hours it had such short clips and bounced from talking head to talking head so quickly, it was hard to get that much out of it.

The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

The Great Divorce by CS Lewis Book ReviewSummary: CS Lewis imagines Heaven and Hell.

Fiction is important for working through difficult ideas. I think many people underestimate the power of fiction to help readers understand difficult concepts.

This is my second or third reading of the Great Divorce. Lewis is not writing a systematic theology of heaven and hell and the afterlife. He is instead exploring  some of our preconceptions. Lewis is not only a very talented author, but he has a way of approaching topics that seem to be continuously relevant.

The book opens with the narrator in a great city that is always at dusk. He rides on a bus to what we understand as the gates of heaven. Theologically Lewis is on somewhat shaky ground here. Lewis believes in purgatory, but many of his readers do not. The narrator and the other passengers are being given the opportunity to leave purgatory and enter heaven. But many of them choose to return and for them it will be their eternal hell.

Amazon Prime Day

KU-retail-lp_pinata._CB268739092_Today is Amazon’s big sale. There are lots of sale that are good, but here are a couple that might make sense for Readers. (These are only for Amazon Prime members. You can sign up for a free Amazon Prime Trial if you want.)

Amazon subscription book program is up to 40% off (when pre-purchasing from 6 to 24 months.)  The 6 month subscription for $45 is tempting for me. When combined with the sale on the basic Kindle is on sale for $50 ($30 off).  So you could read for six month from over 1 million ebooks with a new reader for less than $100.

Or, if you want a lighted screen the 3rd generation Paperwhite is on sale for $90 ($30 off). The Kindle Voyage is on sale for $150 ($50 off).  But I am not sure who I would recommend that device to. It has page turn buttons and is slightly lighter than the Paperwhite, but has the same screen as the Paperwhite. So I would probably recommend buying the Paperwhite and saving the $60 for books.)

Amazon also has their basic Tablet on sale for $33.33, a new low price (normally $50).  The basic tablet is good for reading books and watching videos, but I have owned two different Amazon Fire Tablets and was frustrated with both for being under powered. But at $33.33 it is a hard to pass up deal (and will sell out.)

Personally, I love my Amazon TV stick, which on sale for $25. But if I were purchasing today, I would probably spend the extra $10 and get the voice remote.

I have not noticed Kindle books being part of the sale. But I did see Water Isaacson’s 900 page biography of Kissinger is on sale for $3.99. The Fortress Press sale and July monthly sale are still going on.

Any particularly good deals you noticed.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

A Reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99.
Fledgling: A NovelSummary: A very different vampire story than the recent Twilight/True Blood variety.

Do you get tired of me saying, “This is an author that I have been wanting to read for a while”?  Because I am a bit tired of writing it.  But it is true.  Butler was a unique writer. She was an African American female science fiction/fantasy author. She wrote African American characters into Science Fiction and Fantasy.  She was also the first (only?) science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Fledgling was Octavia Butler’s last book.  Butler died at the age of 58 in 2006 (of a stroke), a year after this book was published.

Fledgling is a vampire book.  Not like Twilight or True Blood, but still very much vampire.

In this world of vampires, you do not become a vampire.  You are born a vampire.  Vampires, (they call themselves Ina), are a different species from humans.

The Ina need humans for blood and form a symbiotic relationship.  The humans willingly form a community around a particular Ina and in exchange the Ina venom helps humans heal and live longer.  A human ‘symbiant’, can live to 200 or so years old.  While the Ina often live to 500-600 years old.