Disruptive Compassion | Book Review


“If I want to do something with my life and make a difference in the world, how do I do that?”

A college student asked Hal Donaldson this question several years ago after Donaldson made a presentation at his university. In the succeeding years, others asked Donaldson the same question. Though they were older than the student — some middle aged, others past retirement — each desired more than to do well; they wanted to do good.

Disruptive Compassion is Donaldson’s answer to their question. It reflects lessons he has learned personally, having grown up poor, and professionally, as CEO of Convoy of Hope. Convoy is a leading Christian compassion ministry whose mission is to “empower others to live with greater independence and freedom from poverty, disease, and hunger.”

But what precisely is “disruptive compassion”? As Donaldson explains, it’s not “code for sanitizing the world or condemning people who don’t measure up to your standards.” That is not the way of Jesus. Rather, disruptive compassion is “a rejection of the status quo and a belief that a tidal wave of love and acts of kindness can heal a wounded world.”

That sounds easy enough, right? Yes, and in a sense it is. The book’s thirteen chapters each contain an imperative for “compassion revolutionaries” to follow:

      1. Believe
      2. Define the Mission
      3. Do Reconnaissance
      4. Conduct an Audit
      5. Be Authentic
      6. Build a Team
      7. Pay the Invoice
      8. Create Momentum
      9. Eliminate Distractions
      10. Take Risks
      11. Measure Outcomes
      12. Persist and Pivot
      13. Go

These imperatives, while easy to articulate, are difficult to apply, however. Even to get started, you have to overcome what Donaldson calls “the true enemies of progress”: “doubt, apathy, and blame.” In my experience, this is the hardest threshold to cross because it calls us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to make a difference in our circle of influence.

While the imperative to believe presents a psychological challenge, the remaining imperatives present practical challenges. Where will I focus? What are the resource gaps that I can fill? How has God prepared me uniquely to address these gaps? Who will team up with me? And what costs am I willing to pay to see the mission through? These are some of the hard questions Donaldson asks (and answers) in his book.

Compassion revolutionaries come in all kinds. Some, like Donaldson himself, are full-time visionaries who create organizations, like Convoy of Hope, that become movements of love and kindness. Others excel in their professional careers but leverage their influence and wealth for Kingdom purposes. And still others serve in the army of volunteers that every genuine movement needs. You can read the stories of all kinds of compassion revolutionaries in the book.

The key thing, however, is to seek personally to “make a radical difference through disruptive compassion, wherever you are.” And so, having read the book, I find myself asking a simple question: Today, where can I show love and kindness to a person who needs it, whether through my words or by my deeds? Read this book, and I think you’ll start asking yourself the same thing. Answer it in word and deed and who knows how far your circle of influence eventually may extend!

Book Reviewed
Hal Donaldson, Kirk Noonan, and Lindsay Kay Donaldson, Disruptive Compassion: Becoming the Revolutionary You Were Born to Be (Grand Rapids, MI: 2019).

P.S. To hear my conversation with Hal Donaldson about Disruptive Compassion, please listen to Episode 184 of the Influence Podcast.

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

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Joe Country | Book Review


Joe Country is the eighth installment in Mick Herron’s series about a motley group of disgraced agents whom MI5 cannot fire outright, so it sends them to Slough House instead and hopes the boredom of their tasks there grinds them into resigning voluntarily.

This installment begins at the end of the tale with the murders of two “slow horses,” as Slough House’s denizens are derisively named. A “Joe,” in the argot of the intelligence world, is a spy run by a handler. And Slough House’s “handler,” the incongruously named late-Cold War veteran Jackson Lamb—he’s anything but—doesn’t like others messing with his Joes. The remainder of the novel rehearses the who, what, when, where, how, and why of these murders, and narrates the slow horses’ exaction of, if not exactly revenge, at least something approaching justice.

Mick Herron’s plots are labyrinthine, but his characters, their interactions, and conversations contain sly, dry British humor that result in books that feel, like a cross between John LeCarre and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is especially true of Jackson Lamb, whose cunning is exceeded only by a noticeable lack of hygiene, etiquette, and temperance. Lamb doesn’t carry the action in this, or any of the other installments in the Slough House series, but he is their beating heart.

Joe Country, like the previous five novels in this series, is a page-turner, which is my number-one criteria for evaluating good murder/suspense novels. (The novellas are quick reads and provide crucial backstory for the novels that succeed them, but they’re not page-turners, in my book.) I suppose you could read it as a stand-alone book, but I think you would miss out on a lot by not knowing the back story of the characters and their stories. Start with Slow Horses and read your way forward through this excellent series.

Book Reviewed
Mick Herron, Joe Country (New York: Soho Press, 2019).

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

Seculosity | Book Review


American organized religion is declining. According to Gallup data, only one percent of U.S. adults claimed no religious affiliation in 1955. By 2017, that percentage had grown to 20. The younger the adult, the likelier the lack of religious affiliation. For adults ages 30–39, the percentage is 28. For those ages 21–29, it’s 33. If you’re looking for evidence of secularization in America, this rise of the Nones is Exhibit A.

And yet, David Zahl claims inhis new book that “the marketplace in replacement religion is booming.” Those replacements don’t look or feel religious, however — at least not in the capital-R sense of the term, which Zahl describes as “robes and kneeling and the Man Upstairs.” They don’t necessarily look like “folkloric beliefs” or “occult belief systems” either: things like charms, telepathy, or astrology.

Instead, replacement religions center around everyday concerns such as — to list the topics of the book’s chapters — busyness, romance, parenting, technology, work, leisure, food, and politics. Zahl calls each of these replacements “seculosity,” a portmanteau of “secular” and “religiosity.” Seculosity is a religious impulse “directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects.”

Why does Zahl considers these secular concerns religious? And why should we do so too? Those are fair questions, good ones even, because they go straight to the heart of what our culture thinks religion is.

We typically think of religion in of capital-R Religion terms, that is, organized religion with its concerns for doctrine, ritual, community, and institutions. Those are the outward manifestations of an inward impulse, which Zahl calls “the justifying story of our life.” According to him, religion is “what we lean on to tell us we’re okay, that our lives matter.” It is “our preferred guilt-management system.” In other words, religion is what “we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.” This search for enoughness characterizes religious Nones just as much as it does the traditionally religious. It is a universal longing.

Take the everyday concern about busyness, for example. Ask people how they’re doing, and they’ll probably reply, “Busy.” I certainly would. Between work, marriage, parenting, and life in general, it feels like every moment of every day is accounted for…and then some. I tell myself to rest, but the moment I start to do so, the nagging suspicion takes hold that a book needs to be read, an article needs to be written, a chore needs to be accomplished, my kids need to be helicoptered over, my wife needs to be date-nighted, the latest blockbuster movie needs to be watched, etc. (Notice, by the way, that even our leisure activities such as dating and movie-watching become have become to-do items.)

These nagging suspicions arise from what Zahl calls “performancism.” He writes: “Performancism turns life into a competition to be won (#winning) or a problem to be solved, as opposed to, say, a series of moments to be experienced or an adventure to relish. Performancism invests daily tasks with existential significance and turns even menial activities into measures of enoughness.”

And woe betide those who fail at these tasks, because “if you are not doing enough, or doing enough well, you are not enough.” Zahl doesn’t quote Blaise Pascal at this point, but there’s a lot of wisdom in the latter’s statement, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Now that I’ve quoted Pascal, however, I’m feeling guilty that I’m not checking off that to-do item either.)

Performancism is “one of the hallmarks of all forms of seculosity,” their underlying assumption, affecting how we approach everyday life. It cripples seculosity’s practitioners with anxiety (Am I enough?), shame (Do they think I’m enough?), and guilt (Have I done enough?). “The common denominator [in all forms of seculosity] is the human heart, yours and mine,” Zahl explains, referring to what motivates our behavior. “Which is to say, the problem is sin.”

In theological terms, you see, seculosity is just the latest example of a “religion of law.” It is a form of self-justification or works-righteousness. And like all such schemes, it is doomed to failure because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are not enough. We have not done enough. We cannot do enough.

The antidote to seculosity is a “religion of grace,” Zahl concludes. “Sin is not something you can be talked out of (‘stop controlling everything!’) or coached through with the right wisdom. It is something from which you need to be saved.” And that salvation depends on the sacrificial love of the One doing the saving. He is enough, and only in Him can you be too.

Book Reviewed
David Zahl, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review is forthcoming in the July-August 2019 print issue of Influence magazine.

Embracing Contemplation | Book Review


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hot in the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In Embracing Contemplation, John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel assemble a team of theologians to assess the appropriateness of contemplative spirituality for evangelical Christians. These various authors examine the Bible, church history, and the writings of contemporary authors and arrive at a measured appraisal of contemplative spirituality. Coe and Strobel conclude: “contemplation and the contemplative life is fundamental to the maturing Christian life.”

This approval of contemplation should not be interpreted as a blanket approval of everything that calls itself “contemplative spirituality,” of course. In his chapter, “The Controversy Over Contemplation and Contemplative Prayer,” Coe identifies forms of contemplative spirituality that are “sub-Christian.” Similarly, in “A Distinctively Christian Contemplation,” Glen G. Scorgie differentiates authentically Christian contemplation from what is found in other religions.

Because contemplative spirituality is often seen as a Catholic practice, several authors show how Protestant Reformers and well-known evangelicals practiced a gospel-based form of contemplation. This includes three “Johns” whose evangelical credentials are not in dispute: John Calvin, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. See Ashley Cockworth’s “Sabbatical Contemplation?” for Calvin and Tom Schwanda’s “To Gaze on the Beauty of the Lord” for Wesley and Edwards. Of particular interest to Pentecostal readers is Simon Chan’s chapter, “Contemplative Prayer in the Evangelical and Pentecostal Traditions.”

Throughout the book, the authors do a good job of placing evangelical theological commitments at the forefront of the conversation about contemplative spirituality. What is consistent with those commitments is allowed; what isn’t is discarded. This measured approach is better than a knee-jerk rejection or simplistic embrace of what passes for contemplative spirituality today.

Book Reviewed
John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel, eds., Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission. It appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of Influencemagazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed John Coe and Kyle Strobel in Episode 175 of the Influence Podcast, which you can listen to below:

I Choose Honor | Book Review


The dictionary definition of honor is “to regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect.” In I Choose Honor, Rich Wilkerson starts with this definition but goes on to show that the biblical conception of honor is more far-reaching. He also shows that honor is a pervasive biblical theme: “The stories of honor contained in the Word of God start from the verses in Genesis and continue to the last words in Revelation.” Along the way, he demonstrates how to honor family members, God’s creation, the poor and outcast, and God himself (through worship.” He then discusses how to create circles of honor, practice honor within relationships, honor the Holy Spirit, and practice honor day-to-day. For me personally, the chapters on honoring God’s creation and the poor and outcast were the most thought-provoking.

Book Reviewed
Rich Wilkerson, I Choose Honor: The Key to Reltationships, Faith, and Life (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2019).

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

My 569th Amazon Review on My 5/69 Birthday


Today is my birthday. By happy coincidence, I have published my 569th review on Amazon—5/69, 569th, get it? For my birthday, could you help me on my #NerdGoal to be Amazon’s #1 Reviewer and like some of the reviews I’ve posted this year? That would be the best present ever!
• Hesh Kestin, The Siege of Tel Aviv, https://amzn.to/2LCB3vQ.
• Jeff Wise, The Taking of MH370, https://amzn.to/2V1zSFu.
• Kadi Cole, Developing Female Leaders, https://amzn.to/2vG3fD6.
• Robert Louis Wilken, Liberty in the Things of God, https://amzn.to/2VBNImn.
• Matt Brown, Truth Plus Love, https://amzn.to/2XDbBat.
• John Coe and Kyle Strobel, Embracing Contemplation, https://amzn.to/2VlQMU9.
• Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies, https://amzn.to/2KFPfn5.
• Amy Artman, The Miracle Lady, https://amzn.to/2YyIsPa.
• Victoria Selman, Nothing to Lose, https://amzn.to/2U1s4Yx.
• Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian, https://amzn.to/2HGkj3V.
• Kerri Rawson, A Serial Killer’s Daugher, https://amzn.to/2EHVbWn.
• Kara Powell and Steven Argue, Growing With, https://amzn.to/2VFf2MV.
• Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, https://amzn.to/2VEseSb.
• Preston Sprinkle, ed., Four Views on Hell, https://amzn.to/2tEkNyu.
• Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule, https://amzn.to/2SSfsCH.
• Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City, https://amzn.to/2DVjq38.
• John C. Maxwell, Leadershift, https://amzn.to/2TD2OUr.
• Rod Loy, Help! I’m in Charge, https://amzn.to/2Rzz5Oj.
• Joel and Nina Schmidgall, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage, https://amzn.to/2GcFucS.
• Tony Dungy, The SOUL of a Team, https://amzn.to/2Sd4yqS.
• Joseph Pearce, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, https://amzn.to/2G8HBxM.
• Nicholas Wolterstorff, In This World of Wonders, https://amzn.to/2B75Bhq.
• Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? https://amzn.to/2Dz3kgv.
• Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise, https://amzn.to/2AWI0jk.
• Victoria Selman, Blood for Blood, https://amzn.to/2VGUTqn.
• Rob Ketterling, Fix It! https://amzn.to/2FegW26.
• Leland Ryken, The Soul in Paraphrase, https://amzn.to/2LMxqzD.

The Siege of Tel Aviv | Book Review


Since its founding on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel has fought three wars whose outcome arguably was existential: the War of Independence (1948–1949), the Six Day War (1967), and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

In The Siege of Tel Aviv, Hesh Kestin imagines a point in the near future where Iran leads Arab armies in a genocidal war against Israel…and wins. So quick and total is the Persian-Arab victory over Israel that six million Jews flee to the only major Israeli city still under Jewish control, Tel Aviv, making it a ghetto. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the U.N. watch and wait, not wanting to interrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East.

But the Israelis take a page from the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto and begin to fight back, led by the unlikely duo of an Israeli capitalist and a Russian Jewish mobster. Other memorable characters in the story include a cross-dressing ace pilot in the Israel Air Force, a Bedouin Israeli Defense Force scout and a Christian Arab barber who remain loyal to Israel, three joy-riding Marine F/A-18 pilots who save the day at crucial moment, and a six-ship flotilla of “Amazing Grace”-singing Christian fundamentalists on a humanitarian mission to feed the besieged city.

The Siege of Tel Aviv is a page-turner whose premise is frighteningly plausible. The problem is that the book’s happy ending isn’t. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, which Israel nearly lost, Israel realized that its victory in the Six Day War had falsely led it to conclude that the Arabs would never fight it again because of its humiliating loss. In Hebrew, this false conclusion is known as the kontzeptziya.

What worries me about The Siege of Tel Aviv is that Israel’s comeback is too easy, the instance of a new kontzeptziya, that Israel’s will-to-live is sufficient to overcome overwhelming odds against it. Given its victories in 1949, 1967, and 1973, I can understand the basis for this. Israel has survived; it will survive. The problem with this novel’s execution of that will to survive is that the victory is just too easy. SPOILER ALERT: One doesn’t just liberate the entire Kuwaiti Air Force or steal hundreds of Jordanian tanks as quickly and painlessly as the rejuvenated IDF does.

Moreover, it seems to me that there are a number of false notes in Kestin’s portrayal of Christian fundamentalists and the Southern Republican U.S. president. Neither talk nor think the way Kestin portrays them. At least not the Christians, and as a Christian minister, I speak with some experience here.

So, a three-star review from me. The book was enjoyable as I read it, but after I read it, the too-easy victory and character false notes sounded too loudly to ignore. That said, Steve King—to whom the book is dedicated—likes it, saying it is “scarier than anything [he] ever wrote.” So, weigh that in the balance with my review.

A final note: The first edition of this book was published by Dzanc Books, who had published a previous novel by Kestin. Activists accused the book of being Islamophobic, so under pressure, Dzanc pulped it. Kestin then released it in a self-published second edition, which is what I reviewed. Is the book Islamophobic? I didn’t think so, and neither does Commentary magazine. You’ll have to read the book to make up your own mind.

Book Reviewed
Hesh Kestin, The Siege of Tel Aviv, 2nded. (Shoeshine Press, 2019).

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