In this book, Marilyn Meberg applies her knowledge of counseling and Christianity to the cravings we experience in live. She specifically looks at our desire for more romance, excitement, and peace. By exploring the sources of these cravings, she tries to determine their meaning and how we can meet these desires. She concludes that the cravings are not necessarily harmful, but if they are approached inappropriately, they can yield negative results. She also incorporates the Christian view that our cravings can only be completely satisfied through a spiritual relationship with God.
Many of her thoughts throughout the book are not new or surprising, but are very hard to incorporate in life. For instance, many people feel they do not have enough time, but this often originates from poorly constructed priorities. In addition, many people are often obsessed with finding a better community (whether this is a significant other, church, or friends). Until we are able to find some form of contentment in our current situation, we will not be present in the moment, but always craving. As she deconstructs the existential desire for more – in relationships and personal experience – she finds “there is only one answer to our craving for more meaning or more purpose in life, and that is God himself.” How we materialize this observation is not made clear in this book, but it is an important step in our journey.
Dr. Peter Leithart has provided an addition to the Christian Encounters Series with his latest novel entitled Fyodor Dostoevsky. Having taught classes on Dostoevsky for years at the university level, Leithart molds this knowledge into a fictionalized biography. In the novel, Dostoevsky recounts his life from childhood to death, through a conversation with his close friend, Apollon Maikov. In thirteen chapters and less than 200 pages, a number of short vignettes take the reader from his time in Darovoe to his exile in Siberia.
If you are looking for a detailed biography, you will likely be disappointed by this short work of historical fiction. While many aspects of Dostoevsky’s life are explored, from his gambling issues to his narrow escape from a firing squad, there is a sense that much has been left out. It is probably best to already have some general knowledge about Dostoevsky, as the storyline jumps around frequently. Many of the memories told in the narration are well documented by the author to justify the hypothetical dialog. Overall, this book provides a good primer to the development of Dostoevsky’s philosophy and prepares the reader to approach primary sources such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
Strike it Rich begins by asking if the reader has ever paid $50 for a candy bar, and although the statement is an obvious sales pitch, it addresses an interesting thought. Coin collectors around the world have created a market for both antique/rare coins and flawed coins. A flawed coin may circulate for many years before a knowledgeable collector identifies it. Even though the chances of finding an anomaly are relatively low, understanding what to look for affords you the possibility to sell your pocket change.
Most coins with irregularities are worth less than twenty dollars, but are still worth the effort to collect. This book helps the reader identify valuable coins with great close-up photos, accurate descriptions, and a price guide. Each chapter focuses on a specific type of coin (Lincoln Cent, Jefferson Nickel, etc.), and is further ordered by year. Many of the flaws will require a magnifying glass to identify. In addition, a list of specialty coin clubs, online blogs, and a glossary of coin terms are included at the end. While checking every coin may not be practical for most people, the book functions as an excellent primer for people wanting a better understanding of why some coins are worth more than their original value.
The first book in the Ancient Practice Series is written by Brain McLaren and provides an introduction to the concepts of Prayer, Sabbath, Fasting, The Sacred Meal, Pilgrimage, The Liturgical Year, and Tithing. The book focuses on the philosophy behind daily practices and how these actions are still applicable in modern society. Each chapter concludes with a series of spiritual exercise and a number of study questions can be found at the end of the book.
In the first chapter, McLaren recounts an interview with Dr. Peter Senge, who discussed the popularity of books on Buddhism over books on Christianity. He said, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.” Using this point as a thesis, McLaren attempts to understand the role of traditions in Christian life. A common discussion revolves around the so-called Mary and Martha Conflict (Luke 10: 38-40). Essentially, the question is based on alternative between a contemplative and active lifestyle. The opinion presented in the book is gaining popularity in protestant circles: everyday life is sacred.
McLaren admitted to alienating himself when he “proposed that [he] would rather be a follower of the way of Jesus and not be affiliated with the Christian religion than the reverse.” This philosophy is visible when he elaborates on the connections between the three major Western traditions, but even if the reader disagrees, there is an abundance of additional information worth reading. This book is a great introduction in how the practices we live out in daily life provide a foundation during our times of need.
The third volume of the Ancient Practices series is Sabbath, by Dan Allender. The introduction explains the special importance of Sabbath in relation to the other six practices (tithing, fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the liturgical year, a sacred pilgrimage, and sacred meals). For instance, it is the only one found in the Decalogue, transitioning between the first three laws focusing on God and the final five describing human relations. In the creation narrative, God provides an example of the Sabbath when he ceases to create on the seventh day. The Hebrew word for rest, Menuha, can also be translated as “joyous repose, tranquility, or delight.” Based on this, Allender makes the case for Sabbath to be a day of delight, filled with sensual glory, rhythmic repetition, communal feasts, and playfulness. The second part of the book explores the purpose behind keeping Sabbath, while the third part discusses Sabbath performance.
At the beginning of the book, the reader is presented with the following: “The way to make use of this book from the beginning is to ask the simplest question: what would I do for a twenty-four-hour period of time if the only criterion was to pursue my deepest joy?” From here, the author considers the possibilities available in a modern culture and how this philosophy is counter-intuitive to the productivity-driven, American mindset. While this question may fundamentally miss the point of Sabbath (should we instead pursue God’s deepest joy?), it was a well written text for Christian hedonism philosophy. The first two chapters were very interesting, but from that point, the book became redundant and filled with stories about the authors luxurious lifestyle. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions and a number of resources are listed in the end notes. If you are looking for a good book on Sabbath, I would keep looking, but if you want a book for group study (which could spur some good discussion), this may be a good choice.
In Left at the Altar, Kimberley Kennedy addresses the topic of rejection, while recounting the tragic end to her own engagement. As a successful news anchor in Atlanta, the story of Lew, her fiancé, leaving her the night before the wedding became a public spectacle. In writing this book, she hopes her story of recovery will also be public and therefore provide inspiration to those in similar situations. As Kennedy takes an honest evaluation of the relationship, she realizes how many issues she ignored as she moved toward marriage. For instance, she recounts how she redefined her identity to conform to her fiancé and became controlling, trying to force his hand in marriage. Although Lew had plenty of his own faults, the author does a good job of owning her part in the breakup. The book does not end in an unrealistic positive tone, as the author is single at the time of publication.
Although this book is specifically directed to women, I think everyone has experienced some type of reject and can benefit from the material. As Kennedy chronicles her journey back to becoming vulnerable, she explores the different steps involved. Referencing the classic On Death and Dying, she discusses the stages of Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. She then relates these stages to her own process of blaming god, then herself (finding faults in herself but not Lew), and eventually accepting the past. She concludes, “Anytime there is stuff in your past, it is impossible for it not to shape your future.” Along with this honest realization, she offers advice for moving on, explains how we should not define ourselves by rejection, and talks about the importance of shaping our future story. She also includes sections which looking at biblical narratives, such as Rachel and Leah, and includes a chapter where guys offer their perspective when they end a relationship. She believes God would not give us a desire for a spouse if he did not have one prepared for us, which is something I don’t agree with. Regardless, the book is very well written and contains a number of good points.
Love and Respect (subtitled the love she most desires, the respect he desperately needs) was written by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, a distinguished author, speaker, and marriage counselor. His thesis is based off psychological research, personal experience, and biblical passages. He specifically focuses on Ephesians 5:33 which reads, “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” The first part of the book explains Eggerichs’ belief that women are most responsive to love and men are most receptive to respect. When these two fundamental aspects of marriage are given unconditionally, he believes the relationship will flourish.
The book describes three possible cycles which may characterize a relationship. The first is called the “The Crazy Cycle,” where one partner’s desires are not met and they respond by withholding what their spouse needs. For instance, a woman may feel unloved and in response deny her husband respect, which then encourages the husband to further withhold love. The author explains how men and women communicate and interpret their feelings differently and how this discrepancy often promotes misunderstandings. Once this cycle is realized, the book offers practical advice to move to the “Energizing Cycle” in which a man displays love, encouraging his wife to give respect, which further promotes the continuation of the cycle. The last level is called “The Rewarded Cycle” and occurs when love and respect are given unconditionally. This happens when the couple understands the benefits of the model and relates it to Jesus’ example given in scripture. While some of the chapters are relatively slow, Edderichs successfully defends his premise and offers numerous personally examples, making it easy for the reader to apply his advice to their own relationship.
Scot McKnight recently published another book in The Ancient Practices series focusing on the tradition of fasting. He begins the book by defining the spiritual practice through biblical interpretation and tradition. First, he looks at the ancient Jewish understanding, then moves into the early church’s interpretation and later investigates more recent developments. He defines fasting as “the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” While one could easily argue the sacred moment does not need to be negative, such as the 40 day fast Jesus took, this generalization typically holds true. The second section of the book examines the different reasons for fasting, including realizing injustice, grief, and following the liturgical year.
This short book offers a great overview for anyone waning to better understand the spiritual nature of fasting. In Western Christianity, the dualistic view of the body and soul create and interesting dilemma in using a fast as an act of worship. Many times, the body is seen as evil (while the soul is good) and fasting is considered a way of gaining control over one’s body. McKnight explains the purpose of fasting is not to gain control over anything, but rather to symbolize giving up control in an attempt to better grasp the authority of God. He goes farther to suggest a biblical fast is only achieved when someone refrains from consuming food and/or water. Taking a break from modern convinces, such as a phone or TV, have proven to be a beneficial exercise for many even of the Bible does not specifically prescribe it. The book does a great job of emphasizing a fast is not intended to influence God to produce a result, but rather to allow our entire being to respond to life through a spiritually minded action. Along with the valuable research presented, there is also information for those who wish to begin fasting, along with reflection questions for each chapter located at the end.
John Perry’s compact biography of General Robert E. Lee is the newest addition to Thomas Nelson’s ‘The Generals’ series. The book quickly surveys Lee’s life, from childhood, to his graduation from West Point, to his presidency of Washington College after the Civil War. The main focus, of course, was on the latter part of his military career. Although he was a successful military leader all his life, he served without distinction for 40 years before being called to lead the Virginia Army under the Confederate Flag. The book does an excellent job of reflecting on the early life of Lee and how his character was developed through various experiences, such as postings as an engineer in different areas of the country. The book discusses major battles, and how Lee’s personality played an important role in their outcome. There is also an emphasis of his family life in the book. Although he was often away from his wife for extended amounts of time, they remained close by writing many personal letters to each other, and a few transcripts were incorporated in the book.
I found this book to be a good biography of Lee, although it is inherently limited due to its size. Perry’s evaluation of strengths and weaknesses create an important part of history not often included in historical accounts. He discussed the general’s humility and servant leadership and how these attributes branched from his Christian foundation. He also talked about how his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox court house provided an example for numerous ex-Confederates. Along with his strengths, Perry acknowledged how Lee was often too trusting of others, and how this may have lead to his defeat in certain battles. Perry suggests Lee was actually morally opposed to slavery despite its direct association with the confederacy. Some of the letters to his wife expound on this concept, but this semi-revisionist view is not unanimously accepted by scholars. While it seems strange to make an attempt to minimize such an important issue within the Civil War, especially considering his wife inherited over 100 slaves, his personal letters do suggests his devotion to state rights played a major influence in his support of the war. Overall, this book provides a great introduction to one of the most distinguished military heroes of America.
Before Reading this book, I was unfamiliar with William F. Buckley. This short survey of his life (less than 150 pages), has given me insight as to why he is referenced so often. The author seems to romanticize Buckley at times, but I was still able to see where he could be controversial within conservative philosophy. The sequential format provides a good introduction to how Buckley laid the foundation for what would become the conservative movement. The book ends with a list of Buckley’s writings for those interesting in learning more. While there are many aspects of the modern conservative movement I disagree with, I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting insight into the movement’s formation.