The Couple That Prays Together… | Influence Podcast


“What your marriage will become is determined by how you pray,” write Joel and Nina Schmidgall in their new book, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage. “Prayers for your marriage will allow you to claim God-given promises, fulfill God-given dreams for your family, and seize a God-ordained legacy for generations.”

In Episode 164 of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to the Schmidgalls about their book, which offers great advice about prayer, marriage, and family life. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Joel and Nina Schmidgall are on staff at National Community Churchin Washington, DC. Joel serves as executive pastor as well as president of the DC Dream Center, a community center committed to inspiring and equipping youth and adults to reach their God-given potential. Nina serves as director of family ministry. The Schmidgalls live on Capitol Hill with their three kids.

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The Marleyborne Drop | Book Review



Mick Herron’s Joe Country comes out on June 11, 2019, and features the usual suspects from Slough House, where MI5 sends the incompetent agents it can’t fire outright but would like to resign. I eagerly anticipate its publication, as Herron is easily one of the best suspense writers currently in operation—and funny to boot.

The events of The Marleyborne Drop, a Slough House novella, take place between London Rules and Joe Country. Solomon Dortmund, a pensioned Cold War asset, thinks he has witnessed a drop—an exchange of intelligence between an asset and her foreign handler—and informs his own semi-retired handler, John Bachelor. Bachelor passes along the information to Alec Wicinski, an MI5 analyst, who on the sly queries the identity of one of the parties involved.

Dortmund winds up dead. Wicinski winds up disgraced (and headed to Slough House). Bachelor ends up defrauding the British government. But the asset gets a promotion and her foreign handler gets away scot free.

As per usual, Herron’s writing is a delight, and this little story keeps you turning pages. The ending left me feeling meh, however, which is why I’m giving the novella three stars. On the other hand, I look forward to seeing what happens to Alec Wicinski. If Joe Country builds on The Marleyborne Drop and makes sense of the ending, my review will be revised upward.

Book Reviewed
Mick Herron, The Marleyborne Drop: A Novella(New York: Soho Press, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Blood for Blood | Book Review


Ziba MacKenzie is a criminal profiler who consults with Scotland Yard. On her way to dinner one night, the train she’s riding collides with a derailed tanker car, killing more than a dozen and wounding several hundred. Though injured herself, Ziba comforts a dying woman who with her last breath whispers an enigmatic confession: “He did it.” Who did it? What did he do? And why? are the questions Ziba asks herself.

But these questions get pushed to the side as Scotland Yard requests her services to help them catch the London Lacerator, a serial killer who’s started murdering again after a two-decade hiatus. The catch? While she’s profiling him, it turns out he’s profiling her too. Now the question is: Who will get to the other first?

Eventually, both sets of questions collide in Blood for Blood, the first book in a new series featuring Ziba MacKenzie and penned by Victoria Selman. It’s a page-turner with a likable protagonist, a plot with several twists, and a backstory and ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you. As a devoted reader of Sue Grafton and Michael Connelly, I’m always on the lookout for a new murder mystery series, and this one fits the bill. I’m looking forward to Nothing to Lose, the second book in the series, which releases March 26, 2019.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Blood for Blood: Ziba MacKenzie Book One (Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

P.S. If my review helps you form an opinion of the book, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Eight Purposeful Habits for a Spiritually Focused Life | Influence Podcast


Every New Year, millions of Americans take time to write resolutions about who they would like to become or what they would like to do in the next 365 days. Researchers at the University of Scranton suggest that only 8 percent of people keep their resolutions. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of those resolutions fail by the second week of February.

What if we’re chasing the wrong thing? What if we need new habits, not New Year’s resolutions?

That’s the question I asked myself as I read Justin Whitmel Earley’s new book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, which InterVarsity Press will publish on February 5th. According to him, “We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits, and those habits shape most of our life.” He goes on to propose eight purposeful habits Christians should develop to lead spiritually focused lives.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine and your host. In Episode 163 of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Justin about his new book, those eight habits, and what to do when we fail.

Justin Whitmel Earley is the creator of The Common Rule, a program of habits designed to form us in the love of God and neighbor. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he wrote “Habits of the Tech-Wise Heart,” the cover story of the November-December 2018 issue of Influence. He is also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, who previously spent several years in China as a missionary. He and his wife, Lauren, have four sons and live in Richmond, Virginia.

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


I write the Read Like a Leader section of each issue of Influence magazine. In the January-February 2019 issue, I recommended these three leadership books. My recommendations first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com, and they are posted here with permission.

FIX IT!
Rob Ketterling (River Valley Resources)

When your church faces a problem, who is responsible to fix it? Pastors often say, “I am,” but taking responsibility for every problem results in burned-out pastors and underutilized church members. Rob Ketterling suggests a better way forward in Fix It!, one that revolves around three simple words: you, them, and God. “Define what you’re responsible to do, delegate to others who will share the load, and expect God to do what only He can do, including a change in direction from time to time.” This book is filled with biblical insight, practical suggestions, and real-life examples.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

HELP! I’M IN CHARGE
Rod Loy (Influence Resources)

Help! I’m in Chargeexamines “stuff leadership excerpts didn’t tell you,” in the words of the subtitle. Most church leadership experts discuss mission, vision, and values from a 30,000-foot level. In this book, Rod Loy gets into the weeds, talking about the nitty-gritty of leadership on the ground. Chapter 5, “Your Ability Won’t Get You Far if People Don’t Like You,” and chapter 9, “Everyone Wants to Be Treated with Respect,” alone are worth the price of the book. Help! I’m in Chargeis biblically grounded, personally authentic, and seasoned advice for pastors and other church leaders.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page, where I’ve posted a longer review. 

LEADERS: MYTH AND REALITY
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone (Portfolio/Penguin)

John Maxwell famously defined leadership as “influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In Leaders, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone profile 13 leaders from diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavor. Based on those profiles, they identify three myths people believe about leaders, then offer a new definition of leadership. It is “a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members.” This is a fascinating book, biographically informative and analytically shrewd.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page, where I’ve posted a longer review.

The Soul in Paraphrase | Book Review


The Soul in Paraphrase is “an anthology of the best devotional poetry in English” edited by Leland Ryken, a long-time professor of English at Wheaton College, now retired. It takes its title from a line in George Herbert’s “Prayer,” which describes praying as “The soul in paraphrase,” among other things.  The anthology presents 98 poems from “Caedmon’s Hymn” (the oldest extant English poem) to works by T. S. Eliot. Ryken’s scholarly remarks follow each poem.

Ryken defines devotional poetry in both objective and subjective terms. Objectively, it “takes specifically spiritual experience for its subject matter,” which for Christian poets can include topics such as “the person and work of God, conviction and confession of sin, forgiveness, worship of God, and the church calendar with events like Christmas and Easter.”

Subjectively, devotional poetry has an “effect on a reader.” It “fixes our thoughts on the spiritual life and inspires us toward excellence in it.” Because of this subjective effect, Ryken includes in his anthology poems of what he calls “the poetry of common experience or clarification.” Such poetry “does not signal a specifically Christian identity but is congruent with Christianity.” Because of this, it need not be written by Christian poets.

As noted above, each poem is followed by Ryken’s “Notes on selected words” and “Commentary.” At first, I thought the definitions and commentary had an unweaving-the-rainbow quality to them. However, the deeper into the volume I got, the more I valued Ryken’s scholarly remarks because they helped me better understand what I had read.

Because of that, I would recommend that you read the poem first, then read Ryken’s explanatory words, then go back and re-read the poem. Doing so will help you better appreciate the literary art and spiritual insight of each poem. These poems repay careful and repeated reading.

I should add that I took two courses on English literature from Prof. Ryken when I attended Wheaton College (1987–1991). I thoroughly enjoyed both classes, especially the one on John Milton’s poetry. If you like this volume, I would encourage you to read his books on reading the Bible as literature, especially Words of Delight, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, and Literary Introductions to Books of the Bible.

One final note: Crossway is to be commended for printing an anthology of poetry in a beautiful hardcover with thick pages. Good poetry is a marriage of form and content, so it’s nice to see a publisher recognizing that good books are too.

Book Reviewed
Leland Ryken, ed., The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

The State of the Evangelical Mind | Book Review


In 1994, Prof. Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which opened with this arresting sentence: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” For Noll, the word mind pointed to “serious intellectual life,” “the effort to think like a Christian…across the whole spectrum of modern learning.” The book offered a historical explanation for the scandal, outlined its effects on how evangelicals approach politics and science, and suggested that an “evangelical renaissance” might be underway.

The State of the Evangelical Mind picks the story up twenty-five years later, assessing the quality of evangelical intellectual life across four sets of institutions: churches, parachurch organizations, colleges and universities, and seminaries. Noll himself kicks off the volume with an essay titled, “Reflections on the Past.” His paradoxical conclusion? “The evangelical mind…seems to be fading fast, even as more and more evangelicals cultivate with more and more integrate the life of the mind.” In other words, while many evangelicals are making contributions to “serious intellectual life,” their contributions are not “specifically evangelical.”

Jo Anne Lyon, former superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, argues that evangelical churches need to recover “the [historic] evangelical commitment to works of love, mercy, and justice,” even as they recognize that it is an “imperfect tradition” All movements are guided by a “strong narrative,” she points out, but when they lose that narrative, “it becomes very difficult to resist the seduction of political power that results in moving from prophetic to partisan to nationalism and civil religion.” Additionally, it leads to “seclusion and hopelessness,” on the one hand, and the attempt “to find hope in secularism,” on the other. Lyon’s analysis seems to me to perfectly capture the current state of white evangelicalism.

David Mahan and Don Smedley survey the state of the evangelical mind in parachurch organizations. Both work with the Rivendell Institute at Yale University, which is part of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers. Mahan investigates “the impact of secular university-based parachurch organizations on the growth and development of evangelicalism” as well as how these organizations might impact “the future of evangelicalism and evangelical thought.” Smedley critiques aspects of Noll’s thesis in Scandaland suggests that “evangelicals move more of the focus [on forming an evangelical mind] from the public square to the pew.”

Drawing on John Henry Newman’s classic work, The Idea of a University, Timothy Larsen outlines the five foundational ideas of a university and shows how Christian schools contribute to them. His conclusion: “Not only students, but the entire academy will be better off throughout the twenty-first century if there continues to be a thriving sector of Christian liberal arts colleges embodying the best ideas offered in John Henry Newman’s classic text.”

In her chapter on seminaries, Lauren Winner argues that “the most basic thing seminaries [should] do” is “teach people to speak Christian language as the primary language through which all else is arranged and construed, and serve as a space where people practice seeing with Jesus-adapted eyes.”

Whereas Noll offered “Reflections on the Past,” James K. A. Smith forecasts “Prospects for the Future” in his chapter. Like Noll, Smith sees evangelical intellectuals making serious contributions to the life of the mind. “But now the problem: we simply have to recognize and confess how utterly disconnected all of this is from the vast majority of evangelical congregations and the networks that comprise ‘evangelicalism’ in the United States.” Smith goes on: “The chasm between the aspirations and hopes of ‘the evangelical mind’ and the habits and dispositions of the celebrity cult that is evangelicalism is no smaller now than it was in 1994. If anything, it is worse.” The solution? “We need a generation of Christian scholars who articulate a fundamental critique of evangelical assimilation [to American culture] but who nonetheless are invested in reform. You cannot be a prophet on your way out the door.”

This book will hold special interest for those who lead evangelical institutions such as churches, parachurch ministries, and graduate and undergraduate schools. Other readers will have to catch as catch can. While all the chapters in The State of the Evangelical Mind have something interesting to say, in my opinion, the essays by Noll and Smith are worth the price of the book.

Book Reviewed
Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers, eds., The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.