Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

When my wife and I were still dating back in the day, we stopped off at one of those little carnivals that sets up in mall parking lots. We rode several rides (we were too young to think that a mall parking lot carnival would have less than the strictest safety measures...) and then, right before we left, we jumped on the Tilt-A-Whirl. She and I were the only ones on the ride so the operator let it run almost twice as long as the normal time. When we got done with the ride, we had a little different outlook on things...

In his first non-fiction book, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, N. D. Wilson uses the imagery of the carnival, and specifically the Tilt-A-Whirl, to draw the reader in. And once you climb on board, it is a wild ride. I got a little dizzy (but not nauseous) and was really glad I took the ride...

I really liked Wilson's style of writing in this book. The best way I can describe many parts of it would be to ask you to imagine C. S. Lewis as a beat poet on stage in a hip coffeehouse with a light jazz combo in the background. There is always a flow to what is being said. Even when there are interruptions in thought or digressions. Once I caught the beat and starting mentally snapping my fingers in time, I was utterly hooked on the book.

The book is partly a celebration of life in all of its stages, partly an apologetic (of sorts) on the existence of God, and partly praise to the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Wilson walks the reader through the four seasons, starting in winter, and uses them to parallel our lives and God's creation. In each season, the author's rhythms and word choices match the general mood. In winter, the reader moves slow and steady with a reverence reserved for the dead. As Wilson takes us into Spring, the reader picks up a step and might even begin skipping along with the word pictures and stories. If he is nothing else, Wilson is a vivid storyteller. See how he describes waiting for a light to change on his way home one early spring afternoon:
There are times when it is easy to go numb, when it is easy to forget that you sit in a box of metal, dug from the earth and alloyed, shaped by the men and robots of Detroit. I don't care that I sit three feet above the ground in a machine with the soul and strength of (muffled) explosions. Horses are for recreation; my harnesses are hitched to pounding bursts of fire, and they pull me (gently, please) without complaint, while I collect invisible waves from the air with a magic metal wand and turn them into orchestras, pop stars, and indignant voices complaining about the war. It is easy to forget that the trees are busily carving up the air with sunlight and factory-producing the new year's leaves more efficiently than Germans.
Yawn. Again.

The apologetic part comes in with Wilson's references to, jabs at, homages to, and sometime explanation of many dead (some not?) philosophers, theologians, and poets. The author seems to take particular interest in sparring with David Hume and Nietzsche. Wilson name drops old dead guys faster than I can type them into the search field of Wikipedia, so I finally give up on trying to know all of them and focus on what is being written. I'm not smart enough to try to summarize Wilson's discussions with/about the naysayers of God (Hume, Nietzsche, et al.), but I did recognize that the author uses sound logic and a Scriptural basis to deal with them. In the end, I felt like Wilson had helped shed some light on very intriguing, and often troublesome, areas for Christian and atheist alike: the existence of evil, Creator vs Chance, Grace...

In the end, I really liked how Wilson brought things into focus with our all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God:
But there was a Being, spirit, infinite, I AM. In that being there was One, and there were Many. There was Love. There was Joy. There was true Laughter. There was a Word, a Voice. There was Artist, but there was not yet art.
And that Voice said Light, and extended Himself a finite canvas to paint the only thing that could be worth painting, to paint the I AM.
The art has beginning - it began when time did - but it will have no end. Only endings. Even now it still grows and expands, twists and interwines, rises and sets, spins and doubles back.
The Voice will never be silent.

Hop on the Tilt-A-Whirl.. You will enjoy the ride...

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: From Eternity to Here

From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola came into my hands because I agreed to review it as part of a book review blogging round up put on by the publisher, David Cook. The nearest I can tell, I got included because of my review for another of their books, Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

The ties with Crazy Love are more than just that, though. Originally pitched to me as "the perfect followup to Crazy Love" and the how to Chan's what, I had some big expectations going as I waited for my copy of the book to arrive.

Viola has written this book in 3 distinct but closely related parts. The author has a main theme running through the entire book: God's overarching and eternal purpose. I'll cut to the chase, Viola makes the point, many times and in many ways, that God has a central purpose for humanity and that it is to be a corporate body of believers: the Church.

I have to admit that I was turned off in sections of the book by the author's style of making his point. In other areas, Viola used a different style to talk about his points. I'll chalk it up to an appeal to different sides of the brain. What ever the reason for the approach, I read my way through all three sections of the book.

Viola, working from his premise that the creation of the Church for Jesus is God's primary purpose, dedicates each section of the book to viewing the Church differently according to Scripture. Section 1 is focused on The Bride of Christ. Section 2 describes the House of God. In Section 3, the author walks through the Gospels, Acts, and several New Testament books describing a new species on the Earth: the Family of God and the Body of Christ.

Personally, I liked Section 3 the most (maybe because I'm primarily left-brained) out of these sections. But what really worked best in the book was the Afterword of the book. In this chapter, Viola talks about his personal journey through Christianity into what he calls Deep Ecclesiology. This Deep Ecclesiology is a part of taking a new look at what the Church, and therefore local churches, should look like today. Viola is a part of a movement towards this reimagining of the Church (and his previous book is called Reimagining Church).

The Afterword served to tie things together pretty well, I thought. But in the end, I didn't really get that this book fulfilled the claim of showing the "how" to Crazy Love's "what". Don't get me wrong, there is some great stuff in here about local church, communities, and the purpose of the greater Church. I'm not knocking the book down against it's stated subject (the subtitle is "Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God). I think the real selling point is that Viola does to the "status quo" church of today what Chan does to the lukewarm Christian in our society.

And I think that's a good thing...

The following bloggers are posting a review or Q & A with Frank Viola on his bestselling book FROM ETERNITY TO HERE today, Tuesday, July 21st. You may order the book at a discount at www.FromEternitytoHere.org – it’s also on audio book. Free discussion guide, sample chapters, interviews, and a free audio of the first chapter are available on that site also. Here are the bloggers who are participating:

Jay Becker - www.jaybecker.org

Mark D - deadmanstravelog.blogspot.com

Igniting Hearts - Kimber Britner - www.ignitinghearts.blogspot.com

Karyn - tiger-kar.blogspot.com

Barefoot Preacher - thebarefootpreacher.blogspot.com

Every Day Angels - www.WeAreEverydayAngels.com

FaithEngineer - www.faithengineer.com

Kristen Schiffman - dancinginthemargins.typepad.com

CrossPointe: The Church at Bevo - churchatbevo.blogspot.com

Crazy Love for God - crazyloveforgod.blogspot.com

Amazima Ministries - oatsvallteam.blogspot.com

Down to Write Honest - downwritehonest.com

A Beautiful Mess - blnorth1105.blogspot.com

The Blakes on a Mission - www.theblakesthailand.blogspot.com

Words by Jud Kossum - judkossum.blogspot.com

Eric Jaffe - www.ericjaffe.org

Reconnect with God – www.Reconnectwithgod.org

2nd Cup of Coffee - www.2nd-cup-of-coffee.blogspot.com

Nolan Bobbitt Website - www.nolanbobbitt.com

Klappyanne - www.xanga.com/klappyanne

Daveingland - www.daveingland.com

Randi Jo Rooks - seedsinmyheart.blogspot.com

Ephesians Five – ephesiansonefive.blogspot.com

Michael Bayne - www.michaelbayne.net

Encounter Church Helena Blog - encounterhelena.org

Thoughts B4 Conviction N2 Action - tsharrison.blogspot.com

Edevotion - www.e-devotion.blogspot.com

Seeking After - seekingafter.blogspot.com

Eric Powell - www.encounterhelena.org

Borrowed Light - fbcnewlondon.blogspot.com

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for publishing my review.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: Wasabi Gospel

The back cover of Shawn Wood's newest book, "Wasabi Gospel", gives you some warning about what to expect inside the covers:
Have you ever eaten wasabi? That dainty green blob on your sushi plate may look pretty tame, but take a taste - or even a whiff - and you'll find that little dollop packs a powerful punch to your senses!

If you have ever gotten too much wasabi at once, you know that the experience, well, it gets your attention in a hurry! And if you haven't ever gotten ambushed by wasabi, just imagine the sudden discovery of a fire bursting to life somewhere in you sinuses.

This sucker punch quality of wasabi is where the title for the book comes from. Wood pulls seven pieces of Scripture from the Gospels and explains how startling the meaning is within them. (Thus the subtitle "The Startling Message of Jesus"). These seemingly innocent words and lessons from Jesus, when considered seriously, can giev you a good wallop.

Wasabi Gospel can almost be seen as two books in one. There are seven sections/chapters to the book and each one has two distinct pieces: the discussion about the Scripture directly and an ongoing story/journal called Laura's Story. At the beginning of eash section, a day's entry in Laura's journal is given to the reader. I was quickly drawn into her story and, in the end, really enjoyed this approach to the material as much as the chapters themselves.

The seven passages of Scripture from the Gospels that Shawn brings to us to consider deal with mercy and forgiveness of others (Matthew 5:7), personal guilt (Luke 7:36-48), love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), the 'rich young ruler' (Mark 10:24-25), children (Mark 9:42), leaving yoru sin behnd you (Luke 9:62), and why we sin (Matthew 5:30). Each chapter digs deep into what it means for us to take the words of Jesus seriously in each one of these passages. What it looks like in our lives both with and without understanding Jesus' message.

Shawn has a very comfortable and informal writing style that I find very likable. He mixes in appropriate personal stories with Biblical analysis. His use of humor and self deprecation work well alongside the subject matter. I'm sure that being about the same age with similar good ole South Carolina small town upbring doesn't hurt!
Here's an example of how Shawn shares his thoughts on the story of the "sinful woman" at the house of Simon the Pharisee -
I know many of you would say "dirty, rotten Pharisees." I am tempted to say the same thing. But then I remember that I would probably be right there with them. I would be a "dirty, rotten Pharisee," scoffing at Jesus' supposed divine power. You might be quick to deny it , but let's think about this: sometimes when you really see the facts in front of you (like calling sushi dead raw fish) they start to look a lot different.

Fact one: A guy shows up on the scene saying he is God.
Fact two: Said guy says that he can heal people.
Fact three: The word on the street from his followers is that he can calm the sea, can walk on water, and has been known to turn water into wine.
Fact four: (Here is the doozie) He says that he is God and can forgive sins.

Now given these facts that we cannot see, are you telling me that you would be a follower? When you look at it on paper, he sounds a little like David Koresh to me.

At the end of most chapters, Wood has a section called 'Take a Bite.' In these sections, the author provides a short and practical set of questions to help you see where the principle from the chapter's Scripture is or can affect your life. Wood even includes a small prayer in each one of these sections that I found to be very helpful.

All in all, "Wasabi Gospel" is a relatively small book that can pack a strong punch (not unlike wasabi itself). I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to everyone. It doesn't matter if you are already acquainted with the Gospels after years of growing up in a church or if you are just starting to wonder what Jesus was really about, the one-two wasabi combination punch will get your attention - in a good way...

You can find out more about "Wasabi Gosepl" over at www.wasabigospel.com. And you can catch up with the author, Shawn Wood, on twitter, facebook, or his blog.

And don't forget the "Book Bomb" going on over at Amazon.com