Off Site Reviews

Start of the Best of the Year Lists

I love reading through best of the year Book lists to see what I missed. I tend to read a lot of books that are a few years old and not that many that are brand new. So rarely have I read more than a handful of any of the best of the year lists. Instead I use them to add to my wish lists and pick them up in the future.

So far I have noticed four ‘Best of 2014’ lists. Let me know in the comments if you have come across others.

  • Goodreads Best Books of 2014 – this is a reader choice award list with over 3 million votes cast. It tends to be a bit of a popularity contest but still interesting. It also has a lot of different categories and includes the nominations not just the top books.
  • Huffington Post Books Best of 2014 – this is from the editors of the Huffington Post Books section. It includes Lila, which is my book of the year
  • Bookriot.com’s Best of 2014 – Bookriot is a very good Book oriented website. The contributors have a best of list and are asking readers to contribute their best books of the year.
  • Amazon’s Editor’s 100 Best of 2014 – Amazon will have a best selling of 2014 later, but this is the editor’s choice list.  The book of the year is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I picked it up and am half way through it.  I understand the choice but I am having a hard time making it through. It is a very sad and tragic book.

100 Mysteries to Read in a Lifetime (Amazon Editor’s List)

100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime

Amazon’s Editors have released 100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime.  (This is similar to their 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime that they released around the beginning of the year.)

I have read 10 and reviewed 6 on Bookwi.se (links to Bookwi.se Reviews): Encyclopedia Brown, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, and the Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

Check out the list and see which ones you have read.

Offsite Review: Coffee With Jesus

Coffee with Jesus

If you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift, you might look at the Coffee With Jesus by David Wilkie.  I have been a regular reader of the comic strip on Facebook and Twitter.

The Grad Student Blog at Wheaton had a review of it the other day and I think it would appeal to a wide variety of readers.

David Wilkie’s book, Coffee with Jesus, is a collection of his comics by the same title originally posted at Radio Free Babylon. Many of his comics get shared regularly on Facebook and other forms of social media. My first introduction to Coffee with Jesus was through Facebook and when I saw that IVP was publishing the whole collection, I was very eager to get my hands on a copy.

The strips are sorted according to theme, not date. There are six chapters about (1) getting to know Jesus, (2) spiritual disciplines, (3) relationships, (4) culture, (5) church, and (6) suffering, temptation and comfort, and an appendix with strips for “special occasions” (e.g., Christmas, Valentine’s Day). Each chapter begins with a short reflection on the theme of the chapter, a lyric written by Wilkie, and a page describing one of the main characters with whom Jesus interacts: Lisa, Ann, Carl, Kevin, Joe (a pastor), and Satan. There are three strips to a page and about 75 pages of strips—you do the math.

read the rest of the review at the Wheaton Grad Blog

The 2014 Christianity Today Book Awards

2014 Christianity Today Book Awards

The 2014 Christianity Today Book Awards have been announced. It seems, like all books of the year lists, that I have not read most of these.  I read Crazy Busy by Keven DeYoung (Christian Living Award of Merit) and very much enjoyed The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable by Boyer and Hall.

I am looking forward to reading Unapologetic by Francis Spufford, which has been heralded by a wide variety of people.  And I have a review copy of Understanding Christian Mission (which I have not started yet.)

Goodreads.com Reader’s Choice Best Books of 2013

Goodreads.com Reader's Choice Awards 2013

Goodreads.com has released their 2013 Best Books Reader’s choice awards.  I have only read a handful of the winners, but I liked the ones I read.

Offsite Review: Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

Playing God by Andy CrouchThe year is not over, but Andy Crouch’s new book Playing Good: Redeeming the Gift of Power is definitely on my short list of best books I have read this year.  I am still trying to figure out how to write up a review.  There will be lots of good reviews of it over the next few months.  Crouch is well respected and widely known in the Christian literary world and the content of the book is controversial enough that there are many things to say about.

So until I figure out how to review it myself, I thought this review by David Swanson was a good take on why this is an important book.

Playing God by Andy Crouch is a really good book. I’d heard the author allude to this project a couple of years back, if memory serves, and had been anticipating it ever since. As a white man who serves a multi-ethnic church in a predominately African-American neighborhood, I’ve thought about power a lot. I was curious what Crouch would say about it and am happy to report that his insights are fresh, theologically nuanced, and utterly intelligible. I assume many people will read this book and be helped by it.

There will be plenty of thoughtful reviews of Playing God; rather than add to that pile I’ll share a few reasons why this book benefitted me and a few questions it raised.

As Crouch points out repeatedly, power, when it’s talked about at all, is generally perceived negatively. For most of us, power is assumed to be a a zero sum game: one’s attainment of power is equal to another’s loss of power. Crouch points back to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as the most influential proponent of this view. In Nietzsche’s world we each strive to extend our power over all space, competing with others on the same quest. In intentional contrast to Nietzsche, Crouch describes true power as the process of creating space for others to flourish. This, he says, is the vision we find in the Bible and represents power’s gift.

Read the rest of the review at DavidSwanson.com

Offsite Review: God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu

God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy GodYesterday I posted a review of Kevin DeYoung’s new book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem.  DeYoung’s book was helpful and I recommend it.  But there have been a number of others books that approach the problem if busyness differently.

James Matichuk reviewed God in my Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God which sounds like it has some overlapping themes with Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Here is a portion of the James Matichuk’s review:

Shigematsu tackles the idea of writing a  rule of life in God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God.  Drawing on the monastic tradition, he points to Sabbath, Prayer and Scripture reading as foundational practices that enable us to cultivate our connection to God ( he labels these three practices as ‘roots’). Building on these practices, Shigematsu also tells us how to ‘relate’–how to cultivate relationships with others, God-centered sexuality and how to set proper boundaries around family relationships.  He then, recommends practices which ‘restore’ us. These include attention to bodily health, recreation, and an appropriate understanding of money. Finally he suggests practices which enable us to ‘reach out.’  Our work, our commitment to justice, and our witness are all ways in which our faith in God spills out in blessing to the world.  Shigematsu suggests making a rule of life which attends to each of these four rules, but keeps us rooted in the rhythms of Sabbath, prayer and scripture reading. An appendix collects several sample rules that people (Shigematsu’s small group) have written.

read the full review at his blog

Offsite Review: Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence

Fight: A Christian Case for NonviolenceI am not a pacifist, but I do think that most Christians could stand to learn a bit more about what Christian pacifism really is all about, especially its long background and the biblical reasons behind it.

So I have had Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence by Preston Sprinkle on my watch list since I heard about it.  But TC Moore’s review on his blog TheologicalGraffiti.com moves it up the to the ‘read sooner’ rather than later list.

What Moore identifies one of its greatest strengths is that it is a call from within the Reformed community to investigate seriously the case for non-violence.  Stereotypically, Reformed sections of the Christian world have been most invested in institutional strength, including government and has tended to be supportive of a conservative political use of international military power.

And so there are few within the Reformed world that have issued a call to non-violence as a theological practice.  I tend to agree with Moore, that calls within a community to that community are more easily heard than those from outside the community.  So even though I do not identify as Reformed, I am interested in the book because it is from a particularly Reformed position.

Here is a portion of the review:

When Sprinkle turns his attention to the New Testament, Fight turns into an outstanding book. With the next four chapters, Sprinkle will cover a lot of ground, but manage to do it in a way that is both scholarly and yet highly accessible. He covers the nonviolent ethic of Jesus, the nature of Jesus’s “kingdom,” our citizenship in Jesus’s kingdom, the nonviolent meaning of Revelation, and more. These chapters alone are well worth the cost of the book. But for added value, the final third of the book includes a survey of the early church father’s attitudes toward war, militarism, military service, and killing; responses to several common objections to Christian nonviolence; and an imaginative parable that illustrates the type of cruciform discipleship he’s been teaching throughout the book. To top it all off, he even throws in an appendix on Just War theories. Truly, Fight is closer to a library of resources on Christian nonviolence than merely a book. I think readers will be thankful. –

See more at: http://theologicalgraffiti.com/book-review/Farewell-Preston-Sprinkle-a-Review-of-Fight-A-Christian-Case-For-Nonviolence/

Digital Parenting With Pressgram

aPressgram was released yesterday for iphone (android coming later).  I have been using the alpha and beta test versions since they were released and I am very pleased with the final product. Below is the post that I wrote about Pressgram during the Kickstarter campaign in April.  

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Now that we have publicly announced that my wife and I are going to have a child in the fall, I have been thinking more about digital parenting.  I have thought about this more than a lot of first time fathers because I have also been a full time nanny for five years.  In that time I have seen an enormous change in the way we share our children’s lives.

When my oldest niece was first born I created a static Web site for her.  A few months later I changed to a Blogger blog.  Once my second niece was born I primarily turned the blogs over to their mother and I started sharing pictures and happenings through twitter, Facebook, and eventually Instagram.

My nieces (sisterly love)

But over the past 18 months my love of social media sites is waning.  Not because I don’t love the communities there, but because I am increasingly concerned with how Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are using my information (picture, stories, timeline) to make money and how I am losing control of my own data. And more importantly how I may be losing control of my nieces data.

My friend John Saddington announced a solution that I have been looking forward to since before we publicly announced our upcoming child.  Pressgr.am is a way to use the filters and photo tools of Instagram and other photo apps while keeping your photos on your own site or choosing when and where to share them.

Offsite Review: Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for EvangelicalsYou know how it can be hard to motivate yourself to do things that are good for you, even when you know you will enjoy them?  Well if you don’t I do.  Once something moves into the ‘good for you’ category it instantly seems to take on a more difficult sheen.

I have had Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals for a couple months now and I haven’t read it yet. Not because it hasn’t been reviewed by multiple people I trust as well worth reading, but because Christian Spiritual Classics seems like it should be ‘good for me’.  (That and because I have it on paper and really prefer reading it on a kindle.

Here is a review from Jared at Brave Reviews:

Ever since Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline in 1978, evangelicals have hungered for a deeper and more historic spirituality. Many have come to discover the wealth of spiritual insight available in the Desert Fathers, the medieval mystics, German Pietism and other traditions. While these classics have been a source of life-changing renewal for many, still others are wary of these texts and the foreign theological traditions from which they come. The essays in this volume provide a guide for evangelicals to read the Christian spiritual classics. The contributions fall into four sections. The first three answer the big questions: why should we read the spiritual classics, what are these classics and how should we read them? The last section brings these questions together into a brief reading guide for each of the major traditions. Each essay not only explores the historical and theological context, but also expounds the appropriate hermeneutical framework and the significance for the church today. Together these essays provide a comprehensive and charitable introduction to the spiritual classics, suitable for both those who already embrace them and those who remain concerned and cautious. Whether you are a newcomer to historic spirituality or a seasoned reader looking to go deeper, you will find this volume to be a reliable resource for years to come.

Read the rest of the review