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.
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My 14 Favorite Books in 2018


I read many good books in 2018. Here are my 14 favorites, alphabetized by author’s last name. For each, I’ve excerpted a paragraph from my review of the book and provided a link to the full review on Amazon. If you like my review of a particular book (or of all of them), please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page for it. That will help me to achieve my #NerdGoal of being a Top 100 Reviewer on Amazon. I’m currently ranked 351st.

Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally (Encounter)
Popular culture and political action may have normalized transgender identity, but Anderson reminds readers how radical it is. “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy.” This is a metaphysical claim, one that needs to be subjected to more scrutiny than it has been. When Harry Became Sallyoffers a multidisciplinary critique of transgender identity

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (Templeton Press)
I haven’t yet written a full-blown review of this one yet, but here’s what I have up on Amazon right now:

Eberstadt is to be commended for writing a thought-provoking book, even if you don’t agree with all her thoughts. At a certain level of abstraction, I think the Family Factor makes sense as an explanation—a theory of variation—as to why Christian faith and practice has declined in some places and at some times, and why it has risen at others. At least to a degree. With Eberstadt, I do not think one can entirely discount other explanations, however. Moreover, as a Pentecostal, I don’t track with her fingering sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers as the first link in the chain toward family decline. The centuries between Luther and the 1960s are just too long. Still, I found How the West Really Lost Godan interesting, page-turning read and commend it to you to read.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Doris Kearns Goodwin,Leadership in Turbulent Times (Simon & Schuster)
The best way to study leadership is to study leaders. How they exercised influence in their contexts provides examples of how we can do so in ours. For this reason, it is paramount for leaders to be well-versed in biography and history, the knowledge of people and their times Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times provides case studies of the leadership of four U.S. presidents at critical junctures in their administrations:

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet (Viking)
The ProdigalProphet makes for compelling reading. It explains the meaning of the Book of Jonah in its original context, but it draws out the implications of that meaning for our context. It shows the baleful ways Christians can worship ideological idols, misuse Scripture, and fail to love their neighbors as they should. But it also shows what a gospel-centered mission looks like, as well as how the gospel shapes our relationship with neighbors in our everyday lives.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Matthew D. Kim, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic)
America is increasingly diverse, and so are American churches. Matthew D. Kim wants “to prepare twenty-first-century preachers for the realities of congregational diversity in North America and beyond.” To do so, he outlines a “homiletical template” to help preachers more effectively take into account their communities’ diversity in their preaching. He focuses specifically on diversity of denominations, ethnicities, genders, locations and religions. Preaching with Cultural Intelligenceis a must-read for preachers who want to effectively minister to people different from themselves.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind (Penguin Press)
As I mentioned at the outset of this review, I am serious when I say that every American concerned with the future of our nation’s public discourse and democratic culture should read The Coddling of the American Mind. It stimulated my thinking as a parent and helped form a better opinion of contemporary events as a concerned citizen. As a person, it provided an accessible introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy, identifying the cognitive distortions that misshape our opinions and hence misguide our actions. And it reminded me that people across the aisle from me—politically and religiously—are also intelligent and public-minded and can have things to say I need to hear. So, buy this book. Read it. Then share it.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap (Oxford)
The cover of Christian B. Miller’s book, The Character Gap, has a picture of Gandhi at the top and Hitler at the bottom with a graded spectrum between them. The picture is fitting, for one of Miller’s central theses is that most people are neither as bad as we could be nor as good as we should be. We are, instead, a muddle. The question that arises, then, is how we can become better than we are.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family (B&H Books)
The Lord redeeming the mess we have made of our families constitutes the bulk of Moore’s book. He discusses family milestones such as gender differences, marriage, sexuality, childbearing and adoption, parenting, divorce, trauma and aging. His words are wise, irenic and filled with astute theological insight, often expressed in memorable aphorisms. I’ll conclude with just such an aphorism, for it succinctly captures the theme of the entire book: “The only safe harbor for a storm-tossed family is a nail-scarred home.”

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Jonathan Neumann, To Heal the World (All Points)
Tikkun olam is Hebrew for “to heal the world.” It has become a popular catchphrase among leftwing American Jewish rabbis and social activists. According to them, it is an ancient teaching of Judaism, and therefore a religious foundation for their politics. The only problem is that it isn’t. At least that’s what Jonathan Neumann concludes in To Heal the World. He argues that tikkun olam provides a religious covering for a political ideology that has been arrived at via nonreligious means. And that political ideology is “social justice.”

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well (Brazos)
I have nothing but praise for this book. It exemplifies how to read well, both in the sense of reading closely and of reading through the lens of moral analysis. Perhaps the highest praise I can give the book is that when I turned its last page, I wanted to read (or re-read) the works of fiction it studied.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Joy E. A. Qualls, God Forgive Us for Being Women (Pickwick)
Even as hundreds of early Pentecostal women pioneered mission fields and planted churches, they often met resistance from men (typically) who felt the need to put them in their place by limiting their authority in the local church. My friend Joy Qualls explores this tension — between Pentecostal empowerment and hierarchical resistance, especially in the Assemblies of God — in her new book, God Forgive Us for Being Women.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Hans Rosling, Factfulness (Flatiron Books)
I highly recommend reading Factfulness. Learning about material improvements to the human condition is exciting. But I also recommend it because it offers sound guidance about how to interpret the barrage of information presented to us daily. Knowing how to read, interpret, and filter out the noise in trends is a necessary component of a contemporary worldview, leading to better informed—and hence more productive—action.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage (Tyndale Momentum)
The vicious cycle of outrage and counter-outrage has got to stop, for the good of our culture and for the sake of the gospel. Christians need to demonstrate a better way. After all, if the Church is “the hermeneutic of the gospel,” as Lesslie Newbigin put it, then our unrighteous outrage may lead people away from God, giving Him a bad reputation in the process. You can be outraged or you can fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t do both. That’s why I highly recommend both Christians in the Age of Outrage and its author. If you’d like to see how he deals online with controversial issues in a Christian manner, follow @EdStetzer on major social media. Or check out his blog at ChristianityToday.com.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Karl Vaters, Small Church Essentials (Moody)
Small Church Essentials isn’t anti-big church by any stretch of the imagination. By the same token, though, it’s not uncritically pro-small church. “Small churches are not a problem, a virtue, or an excuse,” Vaters writes. “Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose,” he concludes, “and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose.” Regardless of size. If you’re a small-church pastor who wants to increase your own capacity and your church’s capacity for effective ministry, I highly recommend this hopeful, helpful book.

If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Help Me Become a Top 100 Reviewer on Amazon by My Birthday


As of this morning, I have 500 product reviews on Amazon and am ranked 748th among reviewers. My #NerdGoal is to crack into the top 100 by my 50th birthday next year (May 8, in case you were wondering.) Could you help me by clicking on “Yes” if my reviews were helpful to you? Here are ten recent reviews:

Thank you!

The Thoughtful Pastor | Influence Magazine


We do not often think of the pastorate as an intellectual profession, but it is. A pastor, according to Paul, must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). For the apostle, teaching is more than a recitation of facts. Note that Paul himself “debated,” “reasoned,” and “argu[ed] persuasively” with people to convince them to follow Christ (Acts 9:29; 17:2; 18:4,19; 19:8).

More generally, Paul viewed the mind as an arena of sanctification: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, emphasis added). For the apostle, a renewed mind was a necessary condition of discerning and doing God’s will.

Whether viewed from the angle of professional obligation or personal sanctification, then, the pastorate demands its members think deeply and express their thoughts clearly. Two new books, both written by Christian authors, can help pastors become more thoughtful, though neither were written with that aim in mind. They examine thinking’s inward work and outward expression, respectively.

The first book is How to Think by Alan Jacobs (Currency, 2017). He writes: “The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures, confronting the pull of the ingroup and disgust for the outgroup. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.”

Thinking requires virtue, in other words. Who the thinker is matters as much as what the thinker thinks. Indeed, who the thinker is to a large degree determines whether a thinker can arrive at the right thought in the first place.

How to Think outlines the ways our deepest desires — especially attraction to and repulsion from other people — shape and misshape our thoughts. It notices how keywords, metaphors and myths can substitute for critical thinking. Sometimes, our minds are open when they should be shut and shut when they should be open.

Fundamentally, Jacobs believes we need to cultivate “a more general disposition of skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others.” This combination of humility and charity — we are not necessarily right, they are not necessarily wrong — is “the royal road” to thinking.

The second book is Good Arguments by Richard A. Holland Jr. and Benjamin K. Forrest (Baker Academic, 2017). It defines an argument not as a yelling-and-screaming match but as “a systematic account of a claim or belief.” An argument presents “objective, factual claims for the purpose of persuading others to acknowledge certain facts about the world.”

Successive chapters in the book focus on logic, fallacies, definitions, analogies, cause and effect, and authority. The authors conclude with practical advice about how to state a case — especially a case for faith — in writing or public speaking.

Of these two books, I found How to Think most challenging and Good Arguments more conventional, yet I recommend both. Thoughtful pastors must both be good thinkers and articulate good thoughts, and these books will help them achieve those aims.

 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Influence magazine (online version) and appears here by permission.