Book Review: The Heart of Mentoring

Recommended: Mentoring is more than technique—it’s a passion for developing people.

You want to invest in the lives of others, but… how? That is the question at the center of The Heart of Mentoring by David A. Stoddard (with Robert J. Tamasy).

In ten fast-paced chapters, Stoddard makes it clear that mentoring is not about technique, goals or curriculum. It is about relationship and a passion for developing others on a professional and personal level, as illustrated in ten principles for effective mentoring.

According to Stoddard, effective mentors…

1. …understand that living is about giving
2. …see mentoring as a process that requires perseverance
3. …open their world to their mentoring partners
4. …help mentoring partners find their passion
5. …are comforters who share the load
6. …help turn personal values into practice
7. …model character
8. …affirm the value of spirituality
9. …recognize that Mentoring + Reproduction = Legacy
10. …go for it!

With insight from his own experiences as both a mentor and mentoring partner, Stoddard explains each principle, letting readers into his world as he shares his successes and failures as a mentor. Read More about Book Review: The Heart of Mentoring

Book Review: Deep Economy


Recommended: A solid exploration of the need for balance in how humanity lives.

For a while now, I have held a conviction that a Jeremiah 29 lifestyle is important: to live in the city, know your neighbors, be involved in local organizations, buy from local businesses, and generally seek the welfare and prosperity of those around you. God promises that if you do this, you too will prosper. And so, while visiting our local library, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future caught my eye.

The premise of the book is simple – the while “more” may equal “better” up to a certain point, there is a threshold after which “more” ceases to be “better” and is just plain burdensome. As the parent of a toddler, I can attest to this truth: I am constantly thinning the herd of stuffed animals that enter the home by way of extended family. I’m sure she’d have over 100 by now if we weren’t actively giving them away (and if you don’t think that sounds like a lot, you haven’t seen 100 stuffed animals in one place – it’s terrifying). We’ve given some to the Women’s Shelter, where there are children who don’t have many toys of their own, and we’ve also sent some down to the Dominican Republic with a friend, where they’re used at a medical center to distract children as they’re immunized. Both are much preferable to collecting dust under the crib.

But back to the book. McKibben is an engaging writer, and takes the reader on some memorable journeys: The miracle that is fossil fuel and how its use accelerated growth in the 20th century. What it’s like to engage in the 100-mile diet (conclusion: you’d better like turnips!). Visits to far-flung villages that make their own hydro power and grow all their own food. A Chinese shower curtain factory where twenty-something Chinese youth can make enough to send their siblings to school, as long as they resist the temptation to spend all their money on Coca-Cola. Read More about Book Review: Deep Economy

Broken Down House – New book by Paul Tripp

About Broken Down House:

Picture a broken down house. We’ve all seen them—sagging and dilapidated dwellings that look as if they are in physical pain. You wonder what the house once looked like, who lived in it, and how it got into such a miserable condition. Some of us look at this kind of house and are simply overwhelmed. We quickly move on, not for a moment considering the possibility of restoration. Others of us immediately see potential. We can’t wait to get our hands on the mess and restore it to its former beauty. Sin has ravaged the beautiful house that God created. It sits in slumped and disheveled pain, groaning for the restoration that can only be accomplished by the hands of him who built it in the first place. The good news is that the divine Builder will not relent until everything about his house is made totally new again. The bad news is that you and I are living right in the middle of the restoration process. We live each day in a house that is terribly broken, where nothing works exactly as intended. But Emmanuel lives here as well, and he is at work returning his house to its former beauty. Often it doesn’t look like any real restoration is going on at all. Things seem to get messier, uglier, and less functional all the time. But that’s the way it is with restoration; things generally get worse before they get better. Someday you will live forever in a fully restored house. But right now you are called to live with peace, joy, and productivity in a place that has been sadly damaged by sin. How can you live above the damage? Even better, how can you be an active part of the restoration that is at the heart of God’s plan of redemption? That is what Broken Down House is all about.

Looks like a great book. Order a copy from Amazon or sample the first chapter and table of contents.

Book Review: GUILTY

Guilty by Ann Coulter

Title: Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America
Author: Ann Coulter
Publisher: Crown Focus (2009)

Not Recommended: A smug, self-righteous take on the problem of the “liberal media” that lacks any mercy or understanding of grace.

Before I’d read Guilty, I had sort of a vague, nebulous idea of who Ann Coulter, pop-politic icon, was. I knew she was blonde, skinny, angry, and right wing, often used as a reference point for a contentious personality; “so-n-so makes Ann Coulter look like a peacenick-hippy”, for example. So I took Guilty out of the library to see if she was actually as nasty as is generally accepted.

The short answer is yes, she is.

But this wouldn’t be much of a book review if I ended there, would it?

The book is organized in the basic essay format, which is known as an idea sandwich:

  • assert thesis
  • assert some proofs that will be unpacked in text
  • proof #1
  • proof #2
  • proof #3
  • repeat thesis, citing proofs again, and close.

Her main points are as follows: liberals are noisy and use people to further the liberal agenda, single mothers are the worst people in the world, the “Republican Attack Machine” is a Democrat myth, Obama hangs out with terrorists, Democrats have a double standard concerning ethics, and liberals control most of the media. So as you can see, she’s got a lot of ground to cover. And cover it she does, citing example after example after example after example. In fact, there are so many citations that almost the last 1/4 of the book is bibliography and index. Peppered throughout the book are minor insults, witty remarks, and sarcastic rhetorical questions, which make the book more fun to read than it would have been otherwise.

I was impressed by how Ann was able to maintain such frothy anger page after page. I think if I was that angry for that long, I’d have a heart attack. But for all that rage and fact-touting conviction, I didn’t find her book, well, convincing.

For one, Ann seems to be a person completely without mercy or an understanding of grace. Given her position in political pundit-land, perhaps she has to be. I thought devoting an entire chapter to how single mothers are destroying America was over the top. Yes, studies do show that children fare better in a 2 parent household; as a parent in a 2-parent household, I see this is true. But I also understand that junk happens. People aren’t perfect, and they wouldn’t be perfect if everyone lived in a 2-parent home either.

There are subjects in the book that go on, and on, and on. I skimmed through a few portions because I’d gotten the point already; “OBAMA IS HORRIBLE! I WILL NOW CITE 38 DOCUMENTS TO PROVE IT!” or “BILL CLINTON IS A PERVERT! I WILL NOW CITE 67 DOCUMENTS TO PROVE IT!” or even “SARAH PALIN WAS MALIGNED IN THE MEDIA! I WILL NOW…” well, you get the idea.

Another thing that I’m still trying to figure out is whether Ann Coulter is actually FOR REAL. She just goes so far beyond what’s normal in vitriol that I can’t tell whether she’s playing a character, kind of like when William Shatner plays himself in the commercials. I almost want that to be true, because it’s nice to imagine her coming home after a long day of calling people idiots on TV, greeting a golden retriever at the door and then walking in her english garden while drinking a chamomile tea. This is more appealing than imagining her greeting a pet scorpion and eating broken glass while shooting targets in the backyard, which is kind of what her public persona would suggest.

Finally, Guilty did not win me over. I didn’t finish the book and decide my liberal friends are monsters, and although I do consider myself a conservative on many issues, I would hope that I never express my opinions with the kind of loveless, smug, self-righteous tone that Ann Coulter does.

Book Review: Humility


Recommended: A helpful, Christ-exalting look at the pursuit of a most elusive character trait.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5b)

We live in a culture that is built on pride. Facebook, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, our self-esteem centered education system (our city has a no-fail policy), marketing… Everything about our culture is centered around “me.”

The message we constantly receive is, “You’re special. You’re worth it. You’re a winner. You’re unique. Be the best you that you can be.”

It is a message designed to bolster our pride. Without question, pride is considered a (if not the) primary virtue in our society. And, most troublesomely, it’s an attitude that’s crept into the church. It affects how we serve, how we give, how we participate in corporate worship, how we interact with non-believers.

But, God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, doesn’t He?

In Humility: True Greatness, C.J. Mahaney reminds us of the spiritually-critical need for every Christian to pursue humility by the grace of God, and provides readers with some helpful tools to aid us in our pursuit.

Humility is, without hyperbole, is the most needed character trait for all Christians. It’s also the most elusive, because as soon as we profess to be humble, we reveal ourselves to be proud. But what is biblical humility? Mahaney defines is as, “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness” (p. 22). It is an honest assessment that affirms the need of the Savior. We cannot possibly hope to be holy as God is holy without grace. And grace requires humility.

As Mahaney methodically moves through both his arguments about the perils of pride and how we can cultivate humility in our own lives, he reminds us that pride is not simply a sin, but it is one hated by God with a particular passion—indeed, John Stott calls it “the root of all sin.”

Because of pride, we make idols for ourselves (or of ourselves). Because of pride, our first parents rebelled. Because of pride, Satan fell. Because of pride, Jesus was beaten and crucified.

This book is particularly helpful to me because I struggle with pride to a frightening degree. As those who know me can attest, I can be extremely prideful about everything. It tempts me to rebel against the authorities over me. It tempts me to indulge my selfish desires over the desires of my wife and friends.

I’ve read this book several times, and every time I’ve found something that I didn’t notice or appreciate in the previous reading. But every time, I’m struck by the profundity of what I believe to be the heart of the book:

Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ… To truly be serious and deliberate in mortifying pride and cultivating greatness, you must each day survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

And (quoting D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones):

Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…Nothing but the cross can give us the spirit of humility (p. 66).

The cross destroys our pride as we see our true selves when we gaze upon it. May we gaze upon it all the more as we appreciate the important reminder from a “proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God” (p. 13).

Purchase your copy at or

Book Review: All of Grace

spurgeon-all-of-graceRecommended: An engaging, compelling, and inspiring look at the love of God from one of world’s greatest Bible teachers.

Note: the following review is based on the Whitaker House edition of All of Grace.

Charles Spurgeon is renowned the world over as one of the greatest preachers ever to live. Saved at age 15, he began preaching at 16, and became pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London when he was 19. Spurgeon dearly loved Jesus, and passionately proclaimed the gospel to sometimes more than ten thousand people every week (the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built in 1861 to hold all the people who would come to hear him preach), and he saw many people saved through his ministry.

All of Grace, by the author’s own admission, is a book written with the intention “that many will be led to the Lord Jesus.” This intention leads to an extremely thorough and clear articulation of the good news of Jesus centering around the truth that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

This is arguably the most crucial point of Spurgeon’s message, in large part due to the heavy attack it faces today. We see ourselves as strong, though we are weak. We sese ourselves as capable of earning our salvation, although we have no hope of doing so. Spurgeon puts it this way: “He did not come to save us because we were worth saving, but because we were utterly worthless, ruined, and undone” (pg. 90).

Read More about Book Review: All of Grace

The first days: new temptations

I’m two days into my break from podcasts and supplemental books, and it’s been interesting. Honestly, I don’t know how much I’ve really noticed as far as a difference is concerned, but I can say that I’m enjoying the break right now.

Adam, John and I flew to San Francisco on Monday morning. I brought my Bible & notebook (and a book about the self-help industry called SHAM).

No iPod.

No other books.

It’s kind of nice. I don’t have the (literally) hundreds of options to choose from that I do at home.

So, that ‘s awesome.

I think the biggest temptation has actually been using television as a distraction. I don’t have cable at home, and Emily and I rarely watch anything on our TV. When we checked into our hotel room, there were tons of channels to choose from.

Here’s the thing though: There’s really not that much worth watching.

An episode of Bones was interesting around 3 in the afternoon. I half watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother, but was only half paying attention. I watched half an hour of 24 last night, but it wasn’t all that interesting.

So here’s what I’m wondering: What if we turn off the TV for a while? I know a lot of us have “our shows”—the ones we have to watch every week—but maybe it would be helpful for us all to turn them off for a week or two and see if we really miss anything?

Am I out to lunch?

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller (Book Review)

The parable of the prodigal son is one of those stories that everyone knows: A man had two sons. The younger of the two approaches his father and demands his inheritance, despite his father being very much alive and well. He leaves his home and spends all he has on reckless living. As a famine hit the land, he finds himself in need, and gets a job feeding pigs. While longing to eat the pig’s slop, he pines for his father’s house. He remembers how well even the servants were treated. So, he returns home, prepared to ask forgiveness and for a job. But the father goes much further than anyone expects. The father welcomes his son back into the family.

He celebrates the son who once was lost, but now is found.

For many of us, that’s about where we stop. The wayward son returns home and there is much joy. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller reminds us that the parable doesn’t end there. It is not the story of just one son, but two. And we have much to learn from the older son who remained behind and was seemingly obedient to his father.

Two kinds of lost people

The Prodigal God is a primer on the gospel. It shows how the parable helps us to understand the Bible as a whole. In that, Keller shows that the Bible speaks to two kinds of people.

There are the “reckless spendthrifts” (the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition of “prodigal”), licentious sinners, the broken and wayward. The younger brother of the parable is the picture of this type.

There are also self-righteous people who try to earn their way into God’s grace through morality and strict obedience. People who have religious behavior, but no joy. This is the elder brother.

More often than not, we’re both at the same time.

Keller asserts that Jesus was neither on the side of the irreligious nor the religious. Instead, “he singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition” (page 13).

Jesus, Keller says, shows us that while one son stayed and the other left, both were lost. And while the younger realized that he had lost his way, we’re left wondering about the elder son. Jesus doesn’t finish the story. Why does he leave it on a cliffhanger? “[B]ecause the real audience for the story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers” (page 28, emphasis mine). In doing so, Jesus is pleading with the Pharisees to understand the real message behind the parable. Strict conformity to rules with no joy—their religious moralism—is blinding them to the reality of their own hearts.

Obedience matters, of course. But we must be careful our obedience to God’s law doesn’t “serve as a strategy for rebelling against God” (37). We must not obey to get things from God. Likewise, we have to avoid thinking God owes us because we, like the elder brother, “have never disobeyed!”

While the younger brother’s rebellion is “crashingly obvious,” says Keller, it is “the elder brother who is more blind to what is going on” (47).

Redefining losteness

Keller redefines lostness, not simply as irreligious or licentious behavior, but also as a bitter resentment, joyless servitude, and a constant lack of assurance of God’s love. This lack of assurance is particularly devastating as shows us that we do not seek God’s love, but the affirmation of others. Those of us who lean toward the elder brother mentality can’t always see just how damaging our condition is, and “desperately need to see themselves in this mirror” (page 66).

From here, the subject shifts to the gospel. We can be free of our younger and elder brother tendencies as we “gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother [Jesus]” (page 89). In Jesus, we have hope that we can return home to the Father, and that we, too, can rejoice in the new creation when He comes again.

A gospel call to “younger” and “elder” brothers

What I appreciate most about The Prodigal God is that in it, Keller doesn’t let me off the hook. Keller’s work shows me my tendencies, but doesn’t pat me on the head and say, “There, there… you’re a pain, but God loves you anyway.” And it doesn’t call me to pull myself up by my spiritual bootstraps and do better.

Instead, this book points me to the gospel.

There is no question that Timothy Keller is a pastor who deeply loves people and loves the gospel. And he knows that it’s only the gospel that will bring us to repentance, empowering and enabling us to live transformed lives.

The Prodigal God is a sobering and impassioned reminder that the gospel is “not just the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life” (page 119).  Through the gospel, we can be freed of our younger and elder brother tendencies, and respond rightly to what God has done—with joyful obedience, faithful service and confidence in our status as His children.

Note: this article was first published in April 2009. It has been updated for style and content.

Book Review: Keeping the 10 Commandments


Recommended: Packer shows us why the 10 Commandments are just as important today as they were 3000 years ago.

J.I. Packer is one of modern Christianity’s greatest minds—the author of countless books, including Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Growing in Christ, and arguably his best-known work, Knowing God. There are few men who are more influential theologically on Evangelical Christianity than Packer. So when I saw Keeping the 10 Commandments at the bookstore, I had a hunch it would be a worthwhile read.

Sufficed to say, I was not disappointed.

By many, the 10 Commandments are seen as irrelevant; as “rules” that prevent us from having any fun. In this short work, an excerpt from Growing in Christ, Packer shows us that these commandments are not rules to be followed; they are commands to be lived to bring us joy.

Packer first addresses the relevance of the commandments to our lives as Christians under the new covenant over the course of four chapters. The commandments are the way of life for all humanity, & the heart of a personal relationship with God through Christ. They teach us how we need to related both to God and to each other. Packer then delves into the meaning and implications of each of the 10 Commandments, thoroughly and thoughtfully bringing to light his understanding of these ancient writings.  Packer’s insights into the second commandment were particularly interesting to me: The command to not make a graven image is far more than simply making a statue or  a painting—it’s creating a false god with our imaginations.

I wonder, how often when we think of God, do we think of Him in all the ways Scripture does:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands,forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6-7).

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does (Psalm 135:6).

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Packer’s point is well-taken: When we base our understanding of God on our preferences—whether it be our emotions or just that we don’t like what a verse in Scripture says—we are creating an idol, a false god that steals worship from the true God.

Scary, isn’t it?

At the end of each chapter, a Bible study questions has been included to encourage readers to not merely read the book, but think critically and biblically about its content and learn for ourselves how we can apply the truths we find in the pages of this book and Scripture.

Throughout Keeping the 10 Commandments, J.I. Packer offers brilliant insight into these essential doctrines of the Scriptures that teach us not only how we should live, but how God sees humanity—as broken, sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

It is my hope that in reading this small book, you will gain not only a greater understanding of the importance of these 3000-year-old writings, but a greater appreciation of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Order your copy at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.

Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed


In 2004, Collin Hansen came on staff as an editor of Christianity Today, and the emerging/emergent church, with its tweaking and questioning of theology in light of a postmodern outlook, was all the rage (as it continues to be in some circles today). Many on staff thought that Hansen should know more about it than anyone given his age. However, he found that, within his circles, there was a disposition towards traditional Reformed theology, and he began to ask the question: Is it just us, or is this the beginning of something bigger? This question led him on a two year journey across America, and the results form Young, Restless, Reformed, first published as an article in Christianity Today, and expanded into this book in 2008.

Travelling across the United States, Hansen visited several “hot spots” of emerging Reformed theology including: The Passion Conference, Atlanta, Georgia; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland; New Attitude Conference, Louisville, Kentucky; and Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. While certainly not covering all of places he could, Hansen does a great job of creating a solid cross-section of this movement.

Hansen shows us a growing group of young men and women who are sick of the empty, shallow, Christless religion that has supplanted biblical Christianity in many of North America’s churches, which Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton, in their work Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, refer to as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” As quoted in Hansen’s book, they say that this religion teaches that “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process” (pg 22).

Instead, these younger evangelicals are looking for depth. They want more than just “Your Best Life Now;” they want Jesus. And the search leads many to Calvinism. For those who aren’t aware, Calvinism is most easily described in the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perserverence of the Saints. Twenty-five-year-old Matt first learned of Calvinism while attending a Christian high school. As Matt began to read the Scriptures for himself, he found passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 standing out. “‘Calvin wasn’t just being difficult,’ Matt said. ‘He was just seeking to systematize what I was seeing in Scripture…People are brought up with one conception of Calvinism as the stale “frozen chosen,” [o]r they’re like me and haven’t previously read the Scriptures themselves so when they do they’re like, “Whoa, wait a second. There is a pretty strong theme throughout the Old and New Testament of God’s extreme sovereignty over the wills and decisions of people”‘” (pg 30).

As Hansen continues his journey, he meets interesting characters such as Robin, a young man raised in the Adventist church and self-described “Piper-fiend;” and Irene, a student at Yale who spent years having phone-dates reading Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affectionswith her long-distance boyfriend. He also delivers impactful interviews with leaders in the emerging Calvinist movement, such as Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper, as well as providing insights from opponents to Calvinism like Arminian theologian Roger Olson and Emergent Village’s Tony Jones.

While there are some elements of the emerging culture depicted that make me a little nervous (and in the interests of full disclosure, I am part of this movement), particularly a proclivity for some to idolize the godly men teaching the doctrines of grace and the system itself, this may simply be the arrogance of youth that will be tempered as God’s grace continues to transform these young men and women who have found a deep passion for Jesus Christ unlike any they’ve seen before.

For those who are unfamiliar or wary Calvinism and it’s sudden cool factor, Young, Restless, Reformed is an easy place to gain an understanding of why this resurgence is taking place. For those who would identify themselves as part of the new Calvinism, this book provides a helpful look at the movement that can help us to repent of our arrogance and grow in the grace God has given us.

Purchase your copy at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.