Category Archives: Christian Living

The Great Divorce by Lewis

I’ve read this classic before and revisiting this quick read is definitely worth it.

The Great Divorce
By C.S. Lewis
1945

For those that don’t know, the whole story is a dream that the main character has of waking up in Hell in a line for a bus that is taking a trip to Heaven. In Heaven we observe several miserable visitors as they are wooed and pleaded with to join citizens of Heaven (that they knew in life).

The story is very reminiscent of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in that we aren’t supposed to take this as a true theology of Heaven and Hell, but instead we are to see the character and decisions we make in choosing Hell over Heaven. While Screwtape takes the point of view of a tempter of vice, this book takes the point of view of the sinner choosing vice. So long as we see this book from that perspective and not an attempt at theology of Heaven – or an attempt to paint Lewis as a Universalist – this is a great book.

Insightful as always and cutting for those of us who still struggle to choose Joy instead of Self. With the reminder ever so often.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Blessed are the Misfits by Hanson

I don’t often listen to the radio but I’m always excited when Brant comes on. He speaks clearly and with love. He knows the Bible well and, I think, has a good grasp of God as well. So I was excited to read his new book. It wasn’t a let down.

Blessed are the Misfits
by Brant Hanson
Thomas Nelson
November 2017

This book is about how those of us who are introverted, different, odd, and even those of us who may have a syndrome like Brant’s Aspergers, can find a place in the largest of big tents in God’s kingdom.

I found a lot to relate to and a release on certain aspects of my faith that just wasn’t like everyone else’s, and that I subconsciously blamed on myself. I must not be seeking God enough. That’s why I didn’t feel his presence at church this week. It’s good to know I’m not the only one. Definitely worth the read.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Paul Behaving Badly by Richards and O’Brien

A book that asks the question, is the Apostle Paul a racist, chauvinist jerk?

Paul Behaving Badly
by Richards and O’Brien
IVP
November 2016

I found it to be an excellent resource on questions and topics that come up frequently in discussion about Christianity, like, the role of women, homosexuality, and Paul’s sometimes aggressive arrogance. Each section digs into the claims to make the case against Paul and then domains the truth about him using historical criticism and exegesis.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Befriend by Sauls

Befriend will challenge and encourage us to examine our hearts when it comes to moving towards “other” with the same love Jesus has towards us. Saul’s honesty and vulnerability makes it easy to swallow and stomach the hard truths we ignore when it comes to our prejudices towards “others” that don’t fit in to our norms. Very good book that I highly recommend.


Victoria Mason is a married, stay-at-home mom of six who loves learning, reading and studying God.

This book was provided by the publisher for review.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps by Guthrie

Timely advice, unfortunately.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)
By Nancy Guthrie
Crossway
September 2016

I read this book a couple months after my father died and about the time that my wife’s grandmother died. I wasn’t sure how to respond and whether or not how I felt about how others responded to me was normal or not. This book answered those questions.

Guthrie does a great job of explaining why we should or shouldn’t say something or anything. Each section has details on why she is making the case for the response she recommends in certain situations and then she does an admirable job of sharing her own story of loss to bring the message home. While that would be the end of it in most books, Guthrie goes a step further and includes actual quotes from others who went through grieving and what worked for them and what didn’t. I found these parts the most eye opening. Some of the quotes seem reasonable but the way they came across to a hurting person was surprising and enlightening. They also served as a warning. I don’t want to make those mistakes when I’m speaking to friends about losses.

The only place I felt this book fell short was in the redundancy. I felt that after the first few chapters a lot of what Guthrie said was already said. I got the point early on and then felt it became repetitive to the point that I ended up skipping through the mid to end part, reading the examples but skimming the author’s content. This could have probably been an even shorter book that it was. Whatever the case, the beginning is worth the price of admission.

I used specific tactics learned here with my wife and also with a friend who lost his mother. They worked. They understood how much I cared and really opened up about their loss. This book will help you gain very effective was of communicating.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids by Dr. Cartmell

8SimpleToolsForRaisingGreatKids_3DWe all know how to be great parents, right? That’s why our kids are coming out perfectly and they never have any trouble. Oh, wait…

8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids
by Dr. Todd Cartmell
Moody Publishers
January 2015

The title says 8 tools, but in reality the author includes 40 tools in 8 categories. Each of the 40 small chapters is about 3 pages long, many starting with an anecdote from counseling children or his own life and including simple ideas for overcoming the challenge.

In fact, my favorite parts of this book were the stories from his counseling. Listening to children say things that no parent would ever want to hear of themselves is motivating and convicting. Nearly every chapter I found something I should do better.

For that reason and others I highly recommend this ready to read and digest book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

God’s Not Dead 2

gods-not-dead-2Is this not-quite-a-direct-sequel just another overly simplistic “Christian” film serving to highlight the Newsboys on stage again – or is there a story worth telling here? The quick answer: Unfortunately, it’s more the former.

God’s Not Dead 2
PureFlix Entertainment
April 2016

The first God’s Not Dead was an emotional punch to the intellect with some really interesting data for Christians looking for apologetics-lite, (which is to say the apologetics data without the details.) The presentations in the classroom of the first movie were outstanding but shallow and too quick. The interactions between characters were under-developed and the atheist was an offensive caricature. The ending was far too tidy. Some of these same problems infest God’s Not Dead 2 as well.

Grace Wesley (a constantly concerned and very earnest Melissa Joan Hart) is a school teacher who, while talking to Brooke Thawley (Hayley Orrantia), one of her students after school and off campus about the loss of her brother, says that she finds hope in Jesus. Brooke then (very coincidentally) finds that her brother had a Bible and was keeping his faith a secret from their unbelieving parents. After reading some of the Bible, Brooke brings up a quote by Jesus in a class on non-violent civil disobedience and asks her teacher if the quote fits the discussion. Grace says it does. The movie is very careful to show the only time Grace proselytizes is off campus, while in the classroom Grace only answers the question raised by a student in a very reasonable, non-religious way.

No matter how reasonable, Grace’s school decides to hold a disciplinary hearing for bringing religion up in class. Grace refuses to recant – simultaneously affirming her Constitutional right to free speech and her religious duties to follow God first – and so the discussion goes to court to allow the judicial system to determine wrongdoing (or not).

Here’s where it get’s very shallow. The lawyers who take up the case are (of course) from the ACLU and are depicted as preying on the situation and Brooke’s parent (even selling them on how this case will help Brooke get into college). Pete Kane (yes, like in killing Abel), played by Ray Wise, is nefarious, self-serving, one dimensional and unbelievable. The only thing we know about him personally is that he wears and respects shiny shoes. We know literally nothing more about him. I say unbelievable, but what I mean is that it is only unbelievable outside of a “Christian” film. In this film, it makes total sense since much of the message is clear pandering to the Religious Right.

In a promising change from the first film, there is an unbeliever in the film who is reasonable, more fleshed out and who grows throughout: Tom Endler, Grace’s lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe.) While Tom does read some of the apologetics information he doesn’t do a quick death-bed confession of Jesus or couple up with Grace, thankfully. He is consistently himself throughout and believable.

Rev. Dave (reprised by David A.R. White) is what connects this movie to the last (along with a couple cameos from the previous film) when he gets jury duty for the case. Rev. Dave has to make a troubling decision – completely unrelated to the court case – to turn in three years of his sermons to the government. Why he was asked to do this or to what entity in the government is unclear. This sub-plot felt like pandering and fear mongering, but then I looked it up. In 2014, Houston asked five pastors to do just this. From Snopes.com, “The subpoena asked the religious leaders to turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” (HERO stands for Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.) So, still unrelated, but yikes!?

Like the first movie, the courtroom allows for some interesting apologetics to be clearly explained in what I think are the best scenes (and possibly most redeeming scenes) in the movie. Specifically the scene with J. Warner Wallace, the author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. In one scene he says, “I’m not a Christian today because I was raised that way or because it satisfies some need or accomplishes some goal. I’m simply a Christian because it’s evidentially true.” Scenes like this are when the movie shines.

How the court case comes out – if you need a hint just remember this is a “Christian” film – isn’t the biggest issue to the filmmakers. Like the last film, at the end you’ll see a list of many court cases like this one that purport to prove Christian persecution in the United States. But I’m left wondering if this storyline was a good example of the “persecution.” I always ask the question, “What if the actions being discussed were done by an [X] instead of a Christian? Would I be cool with that?” In this case, what if the teacher discussed Mohammed and was open about her Muslim faith? Not a big deal since the class room scene wasn’t against the law; there was no proselytizing. But what if that same Muslim teacher met with your daughter after a significant loss and pointed her to the Quran? Would you still be ok? Probably not, which means it was probably not cool to do that as a Christian – at least legally in pluralistic America. This is one view. We either need to be ok with everyone sharing their faith or none. But like a lot of propositions by the Religious Right, Christians want to be free to share our faith but we don’t like it when others do. (Just check out all the posts about kids learning about Islam in school for evidence.)

A reasonable conversation about the issue of religious freedom doesn’t happen in these movies. Instead we get straw man arguments and over simplistic motivations. The other teachers and principle are unrelentingly anti-Christian, the lawyers are one sided, the only reasonable people in these films are the Christians and that’s just too simple for a movie trying to shed light on a complicated problem. Christians have the right to be Christians everywhere we are. We have freedom of speech. But we need to balance the rights and expectations of who we work for and those we are talking to. What if Brooke was offended by Grace’s recommendation to look in the Bible? What if Brooke were Hindu or Muslim and this proselytizing created a hostile environment in the classroom? Because it didn’t in this story doesn’t mean it wouldn’t or couldn’t in real life. We have to be mindful of this.

All this to say that this is exactly the movie you’d expect. It’s shallow, quick and affirms the fears of Christian Americans that atheists are out to get us and to take away our rights. Atheists are evil and have nothing better to do (like scientist professors in the previous film). They are in power and we are the underdogs. And because everything wraps up too cleanly at the end of every film (with a Newsboys concert, of course) we have hope. Blah.

Christian entertainment could be so much more. The scripts could be more complex, with at least some measure of nuance. Not every opponent is an enemy and out to get us. There are some situations where the courts, the ACLU or schools have gone too far and it is great that there are legal defense groups out there to fight for religious liberty. But telling the stories could be so much better.

(It also doesn’t build trust that this movie is only out to help shed light on serious issues rather than make money when there are so many books, CDs and journals and so on for sale already a month ahead of the release. Search Amazon. It’s incredible – in a sad way.)

Because of the shallow characters, the mostly vanilla acting, and the overly one dimensional plot that doesn’t take it’s issues seriously I recommend you pass on this one.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This pre-release movie was screened by the studio.

My Final Word by Colson and Morse

myfinalwordSame. Late. Unfinished.

My Final Word
Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most
by Charles W. Colson
and Anne Morse
Zondervan
August 2015

It’s hard not to admire Chuck Colson. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit that after conversion to Christianity his life was turned around and then he became a man of integrity and focus. Although not as conservative as he, I enjoyed Colson’s concise and informed commentary. He was thoughtful and intelligent. As such I was really looking forward to this book. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

The is a collection of partly finished thoughts and commentaries. They lack the polish of the finished product we are used to from his radio and print commentaries. They are much more exactly how they were described in the preface: recorded thoughts that Colson would collect as he considered current events or after reading something. But having passed away, these are no longer current. Unfortunately, even the most current of the current events – gay marriage – was legalized just prior to this book’s publication. Another example of how these just aren’t timely anymore.

Many of the commentaries run together. Many don’t have a solid conclusion, rather provocative thought. What I took from this is how much the editors helped Colson with his Break Point commentaries. They focused and wrapped them up. These in the book are not at that level.

All an interesting read, but not what I was hoping.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage by Kimberling PhD

7secretsClear. Basic. Works.

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage
Strengthen Your Most Intimate Relationship Paperback –
by Kim Kimberling, PhD
Abingdon
July 2015

How many relationship books are truly revolutionary? Not many. Love languages, the sexes are from different planets, love verses respect and so on are the ones that counselors and church leaders go back to again and again. Most of the rest are read and set aside as time goes on. This isn’t to say that they aren’t good, but that they mostly tell us what we already know – or what most other books already say. This book falls into that second category.

If you are newly married or have a marriage on the rocks, this book presents the right information that will help you. And, frankly, more people need to read books like this one. The 7 Secrets (paraphrased from the table of contents, no spoilers): The attitudes and behaviors that hold us back, putting God first, being present and listening, fighting fair, making time for our spouses, a higher view of sex, and teamwork.

Doctor Kimberling accurately discusses the basics of relationships that need to be followed in order to create a great marriage or to right the ship. But not a lot of it is new. There isn’t a quick take away or catchy new way of thinking of things. Again, this doesn’t equate with inaccurate or unhelpful, but – and I hesitate to say this, but honestly, it seems the right way to describe the book – forgettable.

As a reader of dozens of relationship books (both out of need and out of my role in my local church as a leader) what I really valued about the author’s approach was that he peppered in so many real life stories. Some of them don’t resolve, but these stories served to ground the messages in reality. It was easy to empathize with the couples in the book making following the author’s advice more relevant.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Hudson

Coffee-Tea-and-Holy-WaterThere are a lot of really great books out today from authors trying to call American Christians back from materialism, false idols and malaise – the American church – but this book takes us one step further by putting our version of Christianity in its place in the big picture. Not all Christianity is the same. Not all issues are the same. Not all methods are the same. But Christ is the same.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water:
One Woman’s Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe
by Amanda Hudson
Abingdon
March 2015

Amanda Hudson decided to visit five different countries to find out what Christianity was like on the ground and in the homes of the believers in those countries. What she finds is eye opening. Brazil, for instance, is extremely superstitious and much less materialistic and the challenges of spreading the Gospel are specific to their culture. Wales suffers from apathy and a post-Christian mindset. Tanzania, China and Honduras all have their own customs, their own challenges, their own versions of worship. Every new place she visits works to shed light on what American Christianity struggles with and ideas for overcoming those struggles.

This is part travelogue, part diary and part challenge to overcome American Christian issues, this book is a must read. As someone whow has been on short term trips to other countries I can attest to the need for Americans to think outside the borders of our narrow, very rich lives, and see the world and Christianity in the big picture. When we see how others live in abject poverty but demonstrate limitless generosity we are humbled. When we see actual idols – small statues! – next to statues of Christ, the Bible takes on a very real, very timely message for those who barely crack it open because of its otherness.

In my opinion, every Christian in America should visit Christians in other countries on short term trips, but if they can’t then books like this one are a must read. Christ is there in every culture, and finding Christ in the midst of all the different cultures in this book help readers cut out all the excess and see the beauty of a refined and purified Gospel.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.