Category Archives: Religion

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 But having passed away, these are no longer current.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.

The Biggest Story by DeYoung and Clark

biggestBeautiful. Connected. Clear.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden
Written by Kevin DeYoung
Illustrated by Don Clark
Crossway
August 2015

Don Clark does an amazing job illustrating this children’s story book of the big picture of redemption. His artwork is angular, colorful and full of allusions about deeper things than the words express. The bold colors are vivid and hold the attention of children very well.

Kevin DeYoung isn’t known for his children’s books or even topics that would be safe for children. (The last book I read of his was What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? published in April 2015, for example.) Reformed and a prominent voice at the Gospel Coalition, I was taken aback by the way he so minimalizes and then stretches the Gospel in a way that children can fully understand.

I am a teacher and preacher myself and also have been blessed to teach Kindergarten children for most of the last decade so I know first hand the simple but clear way that the huge truths of the Bible have to be expressed to children. This isn’t the end of their studies. DeYoung doesn’t have to go into the Trinity, explain sacrifice and atonement or justification, or even spend much time at all on sanctification or eschatology. A simple, “We haven’t seen the end of the story -not yet. We live in the beginning of the end of the story… we know it’s not the end because we haven’t made it back to the garden” (p 120) fully expresses the hope of eternity without systematic theology. And kids love this because they get it. We follow the first Adam or the second Adam (p 129) makes sense. It plants seeds for us, other teachers and their own studies to grow over the years.

This is a fantastic book. An amazing, beautiful, poignant, simple, clear and deep book. And it’s for every Christian tradition. What an accomplishment by DeYoung. I highly recommend it.

Congratulations to Jessica B. of Smyrna, TN for winning a copy of this 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.

Forty Days of Celebration by Baxter

CelebrationI’m a big fan of devotionals. And too often in our society I feel we focus more on the negative than the positive and when we focus on the positive we focus on false positives. True joy, though, is something we Christians need more of – and should be known for. Does this Scripture Journal help us with joy? Maybe.

Forty Days of Celebration
A Scripture Journal
by Elizabeth T. Baxter
Common English Bible
January 2015

Each day the “journal” has two to three passages from the Bible, all in Common English Bible version, with a meditation question. The verses focus on the goodness of God and our response to him in the Bible. Lots of praise the Lord, promises of God’s love and character. The meditations tie the passages together and then ask us to consider some questions. For me, I’m expecting these to be about joy and celebration, but many just aren’t. And some are confusing. Day 22, for instance, we are asked to think of those who are “vulnerable and powerless in our world today” and then how we can “responsibly use power to respond to” them. What power? I’m not sure. Shouldn’t this ask us who we should pray for? Maybe support financially? But then, how is this tied to celebration? I’m just not sure I get the connections between the meditations and the passages and topic.

But there’s another question of whether or not I should buy this at all. Like all devotional publishers, I believe that the hurdle you have to get over in order to entice buyers is to somehow show more value in the paid product than all the free devotionals available online (via email lists, websites or great apps like Bible by LifeChurch.) In this case, I just don’t see the need. Some good stuff here, but I’m not convinced as a consumer to spend $10 when I can get daily devotionals for free on my phone – where I can also make notes and highlight, see the verses in different translations and see what popular authors and teachers have to say about the verses?

Like another Scripture Journal (Meditation also by Common English Bible) there is very little room for “journaling.” There is no room set aside on the page for your thought and if you just want to write you’ll have less than half a page on the majority of days. This devotional is 124 pages (the previous one is 122), which makes it very short and pricey (at the $9.99 publisher suggested price.)


@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.

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.

Faith of Our Fathers by Pure Flix Entertainment

Faith-of-our-fathers-movie-posterArmed with high hopes and a bag of snacks, I attended a pre-screener of the faith-filled family film, Faith of Our Fathers.

Faith of Our Fathers
Pure Flix Entertainment
July 2015

I genuinely enjoyed it; however, I left feeling grieved that it fell short of what it could have been. I have the unsettling conviction that it will draw scathing criticisms from people outside the Christian faith, many of them merited.

It cannot be denied that, at times, the acting is stilted, the plot under cooked, and the credibility almost totally lacking. (For example, Rebecca St. James’s cameo as a sultry car thief, though well acted, was pretty ridiculous).

Be that as it may, it held my interest throughout and made me laugh out loud more than once. More importantly than that, it is a movie that glorifies Jesus Christ and proclaims the gospel message. Also, what with its messages on faith, patriotism, friendship, and fatherhood, Faith of Our Fathers has more substance than most of the drivel that one can find in movie theaters these days.

(Be forewarned, this movie contains war violence, so you might not want to show it to the younger kiddies).


Jaime Jane Motok is a violin teacher by trade, a lover of Narnia, funny movies, Simon and Garfunkel and the perfect cup of Joe.

A preview version of this movie was provided by the producers for review.

Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels

nockelsI’ve enjoyed listened to Watermark and Passion in the past, both Christy Nockels. I recognize that when it comes to music, personal tastes will drive a lot of whether or not someone enjoys something. All that to say that you may very well enjoy this album and I hope you understand when I say that I didn’t as much as I thought I would.

Let it Be Jesus
by Christy Nockels
sixstepsrecords
April 2015

Let it Be Jesus was recorded live, but doesn’t flow like a normal service. There is almost no background noise, crowd noise or continuation from one song to another on most tracks. (Some do have noticeable crowd noise especially towards the end, like If You Never, but once done, the sound starts completely over, like on Leaning On You.) I found most of the songs to be much more CCM than worship oriented. What I mean is that most songs were from the perspective of the singer and what God has done for them or what they will do now that they have God, which is what CCM usually covers. Examples include, Rock of Ages, Find Me at the Feet of Jesus, or My Anchor. Most songs are not directed at God, which is what you would find in worship songs. (This isn’t all of them, of course. Leaning on You is a very good worship song directed toward God.) Some songs were hard to describe. I’m not sure what Everything is Mine in You is about. I’d like to read more about that Theology. I can guess, but it’s not clear, which I think worship should be. (Again, preferences, right?)

Also most songs tend not to build or swell. Very little urgency in them. Ballad focused (again the CCM focus). This is a shame as Nockels has a strong voice and could totally have rocked some more up tempo songs. The closest you get would be the overly happy Freedom Song or how My Anchor starts to build but then plateaus and stays at middling urgency. There isn’t an Oceans or Brave here.

Overall, I found this album to be a calm, relaxing CCM studio sounding album. A couple worship tracks but for the most part something we will find on the radio in coming months. You know, safe for the whole family stuff. As for me, I’ll grab Bethel or United next time I’m looking for something to worship along with.

Congrats to Kathrine E. of Murfreesboro, TN for winning a download of this album! For more chances to win, click the Giveaway page in the menu drop down above.


@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 CD was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Forty Days of Meditation by Hawkins

meditationReading the scriptures every day and then pondering thought provoking questions are worthy uses of a devout Christian’s time. So this book has to be a great resource, right? For several reasons this book falls short of its goals.

Forty Days of Meditation
A Scripture Journal
by Pam Hawkins
Common English Bible
January 2015

Each day the “journal” has three to five passages from the Bible, all in Common English Bible version, with a meditation question. Day 1 for instance has Exodus 20:1-6 (God warning against making idols with threats about punishment to the third or fourth generation), Psalm 95:1-7 (a song of thanks to the God and Lord of all things and an exhortation to bow down to him), Mark 12:28-31 (Jesus saying that the greatest commandment was loving God, with everything in you, and loving neighbors), and Ephesians 4:1-6 (Paul calling believers to live in unity with other believers because there is only one Lord.) The meditation for this day is, “What difference does it make for you that the Lord of life is “one Lord,” one God, and that you are called to have no other gods? Recall a season of life where another “god” claimed your loyalty.”

On the face, that’s not a bad combo. There are passages about idols and a single God to worship from the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles with a question about “one Lord.” But where it fails is in exposition. There is an assumption here that the reader would understand what idols are, which I think is not appropriate. Consider a normal person looking to get closer to God. Ask them what other “gods” they worship (and maybe read them the Exodus passage) and they may honestly be confused. They are not Hindu, or Muslim, or any other religion that worships another “god.” It is the responsibility of the writer to engage the reader at their level and briefly explain what they mean by other “gods.”

Not all meditations are clear. Day four asks the reader to “Name and describe a “wide open” or “deserted” place where you have felt close to God…” without context of what to do with that feeling. Conversely, some of the meditations are excellent. Consider Day 11, “What is the difference for you between believing something about God and believing in God?” Others are just as poignant. I’d like to believe this isn’t a preference thing, but the fact is that when we read books it’s impossible to remove our bias and expectations. For me, the meditations were generally loosely tied to the passages and in many cases vague in a not helpful way.

I also have a problem with calling this a “journal” because there is often less than half a page on which to write. For such a small book (122 pages), there was certainly room enough to add 40 more pages to give room to actually journal. (Not having these pages to write on cannot have been a cost saving thing as we are already being charged $9.99 suggested retail for 120 pages. That’s 0.08 a page! Normal novels – 350 pages or so – come in at $0.02, or four times less. My point: this is overpriced and certainly could have added the “journal” part into this “scripture journal.”)

In conclusion, it’s hard to imagine someone reading this and actually meditating on each day and not growing. I believe, however, that it could have been much better with a little more clarity in the meditations and the addition of the journaling pages.


@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.

The War Room by TriStar and Faithstep Films

WarRoomThe War Room is an excellent, feel-good family film that will likely make you laugh and cry.

The War Room
TriStar & Faithstep Films
August 2015

It almost crossed the line towards the too-long side, but if you are like me you will not want it to end. The character arc of Tony (the father) pushed the boundaries of believablility – [SPOILERS] his transformation from selfish, abusive, lustful con-man to the kind, generous, jump-roping community center direct he is at the movie’s end is somewhat silly in its stark suddenness. [END SPOILERS]

However, as this a movie about miracle and the power of prayer, I have decided to forgive the Kendrick brothers and declare this and excellent film. Don’t miss it!


Jaime Jane Motok is a violin teacher by trade, a lover of Narnia, funny movies, Simon and Garfunkel and the perfect cup of Joe.

A preview version of this movie was provided by the producers for review.

Grace of God

An ex-detective finds himself investigating the disappearance of $30,000 from a church. The question of money turns out to be secondary to the question of faith. But is the question well asked?

Grace of God
A Story of Easter Traditions
Phase4Films
March 2015

Why this is a story of “Easter Traditions” is unclear. What it is – basically – is a long form sermon illustration about a group of people at a church finding their way. A mother who finds her daughter (and more), a daughter who finds strength to stand up to abuse, an investigator who (is this really a spoiler?) finds God. Everything fits so tightly together you’d think it was made up! Ha. Ha. Ahem. Yeah. It’s like that.

The film isn’t good. I found the plot is mediocre at best. Editing was harsh and quick. The characters are cookie cutter: an ex-thug who found the light, a self sacrificial, peaceful preacher, a smart-allecky daughter, and so on. At times, the acting was outstandingly bad. I wonder when Christians are going to hold entertainment up to the standards that we should expect instead of just being happy that there was a story with a “happy” ending and no cussing.

(I say happy here in quotes because I’m not certain that the outcome was the best one.)

I don’t recommend it and I hope other Christians will avoid the film and send the message to the producers that we expect more. Stories don’t have to be neat, they don’t have to be clean, they don’t have to quote the Bible every few minutes. The Bible itself isn’t neat or clean and does a way better job showing the way.


@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 movie was provided by the publisher as a review copy.