Book Reviews

I love to read and to share great books with my friends! This is the list of what I've been reading lately and who I'd recommend it for. Enjoy!!

Dream Teams
Shane Snow

I'm not quite sure how exactly I came across this book, other than I am generally wanting to learn about team building since our Phoenix adventure has made that more relevant than it's been in a while. I stumbled across it and the reviews sounded interesting–seemed like it could be one of those God-ordained books that he brings across my path. (I think it probably was, but time will tell on that).

In Dream Teams, Snow blends together clever story telling, recent neuroscience, and lots of discussion around facets of great teams. He is a clever and funny author, and the neuroscience he covers really is fascinating. I suspect his visual of the mountain range of potential solutions is probably something I'll carry with me from here forward, as is the model of creatively-productive tensions that he outlines. I thought his observation that great teams play-their-way-into-camaraderie to be quite an interesting idea as well. There were lots of parts I liked a lot; the only downside to the book was that Snow is clearly highly pro-liberal-agenda, and at times that comes across as almost preachy. If you can push that aside, the book has some really quality content.

Running on Empty
Jonice Webb

I came across this book as a result of a recent conversation with my Dad in which he shared how illuminating he was finding it as it came to making sense of some of his upbringing. As a continual student of many things, emotional and relational health being one of them, I thought it would be worth the read for sure.

In this book, Webb zeros in on an aspect of her clinical practice that she says she often encounters but is not a central part of most counseling conversations: Emotional Neglect. Webb defines emotional neglect as what your parents didn't give you; not the mistakes they made by doing the wrong things, but the absences they left and the resulting holes in our emotional being and identity. She spends the first half of the book helping the reader examine their own life–first giving twelve different parenting scenarios that can wind up with emotional neglect, then ten symptoms that people with emotional neglect often carry. The second half of the book is given to healing and recovery, and I found it quite good. The chapter she has in which she paints a picture of self-care and how it works may be the best I've read on that particular subject.

The book reads easily due both to Webb's writing style, as well as the vignettes she has intentionally sprinkled throughout to make it accessible. She's got great insights here and it's a great book that will help any reader engage with whatever degree of your own emotional neglect you have experienced and what moving past it looks like.

People of the Spirit
Graham Twelftree

I read this as part of the theological mentoring program I'm participating in over the last couple of years. This is one of the books we're reading about the nature of the Church, and in particular Twelftree explores the what Luke articulates in his Luke-Acts writings.

In this book, Twelftree wrestles with a number of the classic church questions: what is the nature of the church? What is the nature of the relationship between the church and salvation? How does the Spirit and things like the gift of tongues fit in? What did worship look like? How did the early church understand Scripture? What was their mission as they understood it? Throughout, Twelftree carefully and methodically examines what Luke was trying to say and how it lines up with what the church presently believes.

On the whole I found the tone of the book just a bit dry for me (reads like a scholastic book even a bit more than I'm used to), but I did find some of his conclusions quite interesting. The way he articulated the early church's understanding of Scripture (less prescriptive and more used in making sense of their ongoing experience of Jesus in their midst and the leading of the Spirit) was rather daring conclusion, as was his conclusion on mission (that the church needs to stop preaching the gospel to itself and bringing social action to the world and work to preach the gospel to the world and bring social action to the church). I'm glad for his summary chapter at the end which I suspect I'll continue to chew on for a while.

John Wimber's Teaching on Church Planting
Derek Morphew

As someone looking to church plant in the near future, this book seemed an obvious choice to engage. At 104 pages it is a quick read and reads with Wimber's voice coming through strongly. I wonder if may even have been a transcription of a church planting seminar; in it Wimber comes in-and-out of colloqual anecdotes and casual sayings that read like he was talking in person.

Wimber was on the leading edge of training church planters in his day and there is a lot of good content in this book, but it doesn't dive very deeply and it has the marks of being a content generated 40 years ago. I found it helpful and I will occasionally refer back to it as a reference I'm sure.

The Innovators
Walter Issacson

Having recently read and really enjoyed Issacson's The Code Breaker, I decided to try another one of his books out. I find biographies of fields of study or industries to be fascinating and this book promised to cover exactly that territory for the digital revolution.

The Innovators is a significant read: 488 pages covering the history and major developments from the first mechanical counting machines through to the development of the web (which culminates with the creation of the Google search engine). Along the way Issacson paints the portrait of dozens of tech innovators and occasionally reflects on where he sees the field going. It is indeed the story of how a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution as the subtitle reads.

As someone who enjoys this type of literature I really enjoyed it! Issacson is a fantastic writer and I believe the digital revolution is playing out to be an epoch-defining historical event, so I found the history and an insider look at how it came to be to be both fascinating and helpful.

John Wimber's Teaching on the Gift and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Derek Morphew, Øyvind Nerheim

I mean come on, who doesn't want to read a book titled, "John Wimber's teaching on the Holy Spirit"? When I stumbled across this I snatched it up right away and dove in. The book reads in two parts: in the first part, Morphew explores Wimber's "one sealing, many empowerings" understanding of experiencing the Holy Spirit. He reviews some of the historical arguments and explores some more recent scholarship that engages the same conversation (namely Thomas Lyon's thesis work). In the second part, Nerheim covers many practical elements of Wimber's teaching on charismata: gracelets, impartation, roles, ministries, offices, and so forth. There was a lot in this portion that I had heard here and there, but this is the first time I've come across the whole set together in one resource. This was a great book for dusting off a lot of these concepts and will be a great reference point going forward.

American Nations
Coiln Woodard

I came across this book just as my adventure that is leading me to Phoenix was kicking off. I could tell something was changing in my life trajectory, but I had no idea what yet. At just that time, this book started showing up everywhere in my Facebook feed. I ignored it for a while, but I had the sense I should give it a read. Eventually I decided to buy it and I found it fascinating. It has helped me understand our nation and pastoral ministry far more than I could have guessed it would! It also wound up being one of the links in the chain that resulted in us choosing Phoenix for our next undertaking.

In this book, Woodard argues that the North American continent is made up of eleven "nations" (roughly uniform cultures). He traces the historical founding of each nation, its cultural distinctive, and its development over the last several hundred years. Along the way various historical events are explored (the civil war being one of the most prominent) and US politics is framed as the interactions of these cultures with each other as they each vie to create the country in their own image.

I found this book fascinating. There is a portion of it that has become part of my toolset in understanding people and why they value what they do. As I travel to various places and work with different groups of people it has provided a kind of cultural map that helps me understand where someone may be coming from and why. In places where these nations come together (as they did in Champaign-Urbana, as well as they do in Chicago), it has proven invaluable for knowing how to pastorally engage diverse value sets.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
Carl Trueman

I don't exactly recall where I came across this book (edit: it was Wilson Cochrane who recommended it to me), but I bumped into it earlier in 2022 and I just recently picked it up to read it through. It was fantastic, I'm so glad I did.

This book is essentially an exposition on the last 250 years of philosophical development in western culture. Starting with the romantics, making his way through Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin, continuing through Freud, and making his way into the countercultural 1960s and beyond (with. many other omitted from this list along the way), Trueman traces the layer-upon-layer of development of our understanding of the self that eventually culminated in the present moment with its current view of the self, and how sexuality and sexual expression is understood as a central facet of who we are. Trueman shows that the present moment and its conversations about sexual ethics are the natural culmination of the idea of the "theraputic self" and what it means when any sense of external authority to the world is removed from the ethical framework.

This was a dense read - it reads like an academic book on the history of philosophy - but it was a fantastic book. As someone who engages culture as a part of my pastoral vocation, I feel like I understand the intellectual underpinnings and trajectory of our culture's ethical imagination in a way I never did before. It also has all kinds of thoughts churning inside about how we can meaningfully engage said culture in dialogue.

The Code Breaker
Walter Isaacson

I bumped into this book randomly at the library one day. I recognized the author because one of my favorite biographies is Isaacsons' Steve Jobs (admittedly as a creative visionary I find Steve Jobs incredibly interesting). On a whim I decided to snag the book and see if it would be a fun way to learn a bit more about the current state of Gene editing and vicarious experience the frontiers of science once again. I'm so glad I did!

Probably. most days that I read this book I found myself exclaiming to Brittany about how good a book it was and how much I was enjoying it. Isaacson's writing style is easy to read - even while unpacking somewhat technical scientific ideas - and his enthusiasm about this emerging field comes through clearly. It's a gripping story that weaves in and out of scientific discovery, entrepreneurial sprints, legal battles, ethical conundrums, and it runs smack into the Coronavirus and how gene editing played a role in diagnostics and vaccine development. The Code Breaker comes in at 481 pages, but it reads so well I hardly noticed!

Disappearing Church
Mark Sayers

I've listened to Mark Sayers in podcast form for a while and in general I've found his cultural analysis to be brilliant. I finally decided to pick up one of his books and give it a read. Fantastic stuff. In this book Sayers, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, grapples with the trajectory of culture in the west and what it means to be the Church in this era. He grapples with the idea of a "third culture" - the term he uses to describe post-Christianity as a culture and what it means to live as a counter cultural "creative minority" in an increasingly secular and anti-Jesus culture. Thought provoking and challenging stuff!

As I read Disappearing Church, I found myself grappling with the meaning behind cultural trends I've seen for quite a while, and I found that a really useful exercise. I also found myself wrestling at a deeper level with what it means to be a counterculture; something Sayers draws to the surface as a need for the Church to embrace. I also just really enjoyed it; it's well written and really thought-provoking.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke
Roger Stronstad

I read this book as part of a theological mentoring program that I'm a part of, and I'm thrilled I did! I found this book incredibly interesting and enlightening to read. This book reads like a theological book (not for those not used to a level of academic reading), but it was well worth the effort.

Stronstad does a masterful job tying together Biblical threads from the Old Testament about the Spirit of God and showing how those threads run continuously through the Luke-Acts two-volume work. I found it really interesting and challenging. I don't think I understood why sometimes I've heard people say that Luke is the "theologian of the Spirit" before reading this book, but I get it now. I also found it really interesting that although Luke is the author who pens the most words of any in the New Testament, I've come across strikingly little conversation about his works. Compared with Paul or John, I found Luke was a gap in my study - and I suspect I'm not alone in that regard. This book helped me develop in a blind spot I didn't know I had.

The Problem of Wineskins
Howard Snyder

I came across this book as a recommendation from Ken Fish. I recently recorded an episode on his podcast and afterwards he recommended that I check out this book and read it through. It was a bit older, but he suggested that some of what I was saying resonated with what Snyder offered as the trajectory of the church in our present day. The Problem of Wineskins is a prophetic challenge to dig deeper: to look beyond the Church-as-Institution that is still so prevalent in our models and methodology in our day and perceive the need to keep the wine (the fellowship of the Christian community), but let God introduce new wineskins (structures that help facilitate said fellowship).

I found this book really encouraging in that it confirmed a lot of the assessments I've made about how our present-day church models are increasingly not fitting this cultural moment and what it means to see the wine and the wineskins separately. The book does show it's age from time to time, but the prophetic challenge Snyder brings to the church feels relevant in our day as well.


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