Review: “Love Changes Everything” by Micah Berteau


 

How is God like a Nintendo game?

Relative that question, there are, I’d argue, two types of people:

Those who are intrigued and would like to know the answer, and those who roll their eyes.

Which of those camps you’re in will most likely determine what you would think of pastor Micah Berteau’s “Love Changes Everything.” If you’re in the eye-rolling camp, you may want to stay away. If you’re in the intrigued camp, this book may well be for you.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and in the case of “Love Changes Everything,” that includes the description on the back cover, which will tell you that this is a book about the Biblical book of Hosea. 

Hosea, the story of a prophet whom God instructs to marry a prostitute and then to literally purchase her back after she leaves him, is a challenging text. There are deep truths about God there, which at a surface reading can be both beautiful and troubling. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your camp, this is not a book about Hosea. (If you would like a book that is about Hosea, one of the best may be Francine River’s “Redeeming Love,” a novel set during the California Gold Rush which captures the beauty and import of the book of Hosea captivatingly.)

“Love Changes Everything” does mention Hosea as much as it mentions anything. A third of the way through, for example, you’ll have read a good four of five paragraphs about Hosea. But to say it’s a book about Hosea is a stretch.

What it is about, as one might gather from the title, is Love. Specifically, God’s love, and what it means to to be loved by God and to love God.

It uses Hosea as a way to talk about that topic, but it also uses Nintendo games and GPS and toddler cups and cabinet doors.

In fact, it uses those things more liberally than scripture. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – Berteau’s claim that Martha and Lazarus’ sister Mary had been a prostitute strikes me as dubious, as does one of his major claims about the Hosea story.)

Berteau uses these copious everyday analogies to personalize and humanize scripture. This is a book not for someone looking for a deep exegesis of scripture, but for someone looking for a more relatable way to connect to it. Berteau uses his own life, and the culture around us to make his points accessible, to make the Father’s love as tangible as, well, a father’s love.

I’ll admit that I found it a mixed bag – his GPS analogy that we don’t always get direction while we’re still going the right way resonated with me, his Michael Jackson reference that Jesus is the “Smoothest Criminal” perhaps less so. (I suspect I’m probably a little older than the target audience, so your milage may vary.)

All in all, “Love Changes Everything” is an engaging and energetic introduction to God’s love for those seeking a new  approach a new understanding.

(Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Handlebar publishing. Also full disclosure: I’m in the eye-rolling camp on the whole Nintendo thing.)

Review: “Hope of Nations” by John Dickerson


If there’s one thing many modern Christians do well, it’s despair for the state of the world. Either the modern age is the end times, or it certainly should be. 

John Dickerson’s “Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World” is a handy guide for that mentality, which is both everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with the book.

The premise of the book is this: Modern society is abandoning capital-T Truth, which seems to pendulum between being the belief that there are some things that are more than just opinions no more valid than other opinions, and being God. This new “anything goes, everything’s equal” mentality is leading to a worldwide cultural decline and societal collapse.

At its best, the book has practical advice for living as a Christian in that world, both in terms of how to recognize “Post-Truth” fallacies, and in terms of how to live in such a way as to make the world a better place. How does Christianity prove its relevance and merit in a world decreasingly likely to accept “because it’s true” as a compelling argument? “We should not be outloved,” Dickerson challenges in an example of the strongest parts of this book. 

Unfortunately, such points are scattered sparsely throughout the book, and, most often, buried toward the end. How this is received will depend on the reader. At one end of the spectrum, the book seems unlikely to make much impact on a non-Christian; it’s “preach to the choir” approach seems more likely to alienate than convince a reader not already in Dickerson’s doctrinal camp. To the reader of a similar mindset, however, that choir-preaching could be a welcome pep-rally, a reinforcement that things really are as bad as they thought, and that those they were inclined to blame really are at fault. 

For myself, I would have preferred more meat and less pep rally. I found myself wanting to give up on the book after multiple recountings of the same anecdote about just how depraved those folks in San Francisco are, and disappointed when I finally reached a chapter challenging Christians wanted to make a difference to be “Known for Doing Good in a Post-Church Era” that the pages it spent exhorting the reader to “do good” never got around to positing what might be recognized as “good” things for a Christian to do in today’s society.

The meat of the book is good, but your enjoyment of the book as a whole will entirely depend on whether you find getting there a slog or a celebration.

Puppies and Magic


 

Joel went outside the other morning with Rebecca, and encountered a creature he’d not met before right there in his backyard.

It was much smaller than Joel and walking around, and he decided he needed to go meet it.

He took a few steps toward it, and it took a few steps away. He took a few steps faster, and it ran faster away.

Joel started started running toward it, and IT LEFT THE GROUND! This creature was suddenly IN MIDAIR, with nothing underneath it! JUST IN THE AIR! With no ground under it! It just took off as if that were a perfectly normal thing to do! Not on the ground! In the air!

Joel turned back to Rebecca with this “Did you see that!?!?” look on his face, and then stared, dumbfounded, at the thing until it was gone.

He’s never going to understand, the way we do, concepts like gravity and lift and drag and airfoils and aerodynamics and the low-density of hollow bones.

But he’ll get older and kind of figure out that the world works in consistent ways, and everything he witnesses generally meshes with those consistent rules and there’s not really any magic.

But right now, there is.

And, really, it’s not a bad perspective to have.

Review: “The Master’s Mind” by Lance Hahn


There is a line, toward the end of Lance Hahn’s “The Master’s Mind,” that sums up the heart of the book in both its depth and simplicity: “Repent doesn’t only mean to turn away to be change one’s mind and start agreeing with God.”

For those who perceive Christianity as a religion fueled largely by “Thou Shalt Nots” – whether believer or otherwise – this book will be revelatory. Its focus, indeed, is not even on “Thou Shalts.” Rather, it is concerned much less with the things that a person refrain from doing or the things they must do than it is concerned with how a person should be thinking about the world, or, more accurately, about God.

There is today a modern resurgence of the philosophy of Stoicism, teaching that one’s world is influenced by nothing so much as by how one perceives it, and this book provides a Christian angle on that approach –– there is nothing that shapes one’s world so much as God, and one’s experience of that world is driven by how you understand Him. Life becomes simpler and more rewarding the more that understanding and appreciation is kept in place.

Hahn builds his case incrementally, beginning with establishing an understanding of the world around us – including the challenges therein – before culminating in a guide to finding rest in that chaos.

An accessible and engaging read, “The Master’s Mind” is a beneficial revelation or reminder to anyone seeking peace in an overwhelming world.

(Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of “The Master’s Mind” by Handlebar Marketing.)

Book Review: “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” by Glenys Nellist


I was recently offered an advance copy of “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” by Glenys Nellis to review for this blog. This review is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt, since she has experience having a girl’s heart.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of a pretty big sin.

And have been since I was a little girl. For a long time, I allowed myself to stew in this sin. Are you ready to know what it is? Alright, here goes… I, Rebecca Elizabeth Hitt (formerly Freeman), I am guilty of envy. Of whom, you might ask? People in the Bible.

I admit it. I used to read Bible stories where God spoke directly and out loud to people and I felt envy. How come God used to speak to people, but not anymore? I wanted to hear the voice of God! I wanted to be so dear and loved to God that he spoke to me! Why was I not special enough? Was I not good enough? Why not me, God, why not me?

Over the years, I have learned just how often I *do* head the voice of God. But sometimes it’s helpful to get a gentle hint. “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” wonderfully illustrates the way God speaks to us now and works on our behalf. It beautifully ties stories from the Bible to life today and shows how the two are related. After each story comes a “love letter” from God that draw a correlation between the story and our lives. Each story is labeled without identifying the Biblical figure it’s about. Just “The _____ girl.” The Hopeful Girl. The Busy Girl. Who among us hasn’t been hopeful? Who hasn’t been busy? Whenever we place our hope in God, we are Hannah. Whenever we are busy, we are Martha. Not only does God speak to us, He speaks to us through the people in these stories.

I really enjoyed this book. I hope that anyone who reads it — girl or boy, child or adult — walks away with a renewed sense of God’s presence in their life.

Review: “Good Christian Sex” by Bromleigh McCleneghan


good-christian-sex-coverRebecca and I have participated in several TLC Book Tours, and when I was offered a free review copy of Bromleigh McCleneghan’s Good Christian Sex, I debated whether to accept it. It’s not exactly my usual topic, but arguably it’s one with as much merit as other books I’ve reviewed, and, honestly, I was a bit intrigued by the title.

The title, perhaps the most-clever part of the book, could go multiple ways. Is it sex for “good Christians”? Is it good sex for Christians? And is that a virtuous or meritorious “good,” as in “I aspire to be a good person” or “I aspire to be a good guitar player”? The answer, as it turns out, is that it’s morally good sex, so those expecting how-to will be disappointed. It’s also probably more morally good sex for Christians, moreso than morally good Christian sex.

McCleneghan tells a story in the introduction that provides context for the whole book. She’s in college, and a friend calls to ask her if she (the friend) should have sex with her (the friend’s) boyfriend. The friend, it turns out, was asking McCleneghan because she (McCleneghan) was a pastor’s kid. Raised in a church environment that taught nothing wrong about premarital sex, McCleneghan responded, do you want to?

This book, then, is McCleneghan’s longer response to that and similar questions — reasoned and sourced and organized and written authoritatively — now that she is herself a pastor. It’s a question that deserves such an answer; McCleneghan’s will likely only cause people to take away from the book the things they bring to it. For those wanting spiritual peace of mind about a less rigid view of Christian sex, McCleneghan offers a discourse, signed by a pastor, granting it. Those with a more conservative view on such topics, however, are unlikely to change their mind because of anything McCleneghan writes here.

Personally, I think there is a case to be made that some churches today do skew overly conservative in their interpretation of sex-related scripture, and I believe that there is plenty of room for a open-minded discussion of what the Bible says about sex. This book, however, is not that.

God is a supporting cast member who comes and goes throughout Good Christian Sex depending on how much he’s needed at the moment. Scriptures that deal with sex make rare and brief cameos. Other scripture appears more often, cited as inspiration when it supports a point McCleneghan wants to make, and eyed suspiciously when it doesn’t align adequately with her modern cultural norms. (‘The Book of Genesis is not great for a lot of things,” opines Pastor McCleneghan.) Better inspiration for today’s Christians can be found here in The LEGO Movie and Ani DiFranco.

In debating whether to receive the review copy, I’d rationalized to myself that if it was going to require a discussion of sex too cringeworthy for my blog, I’d cop out and talk instead about what Christian sex tells us about God. This book provides little fodder for that conversation as well.

It’s not impossible to imagine that the friend who called McCleneghan with the question that informed this book so many years ago wasn’t really looking so much for theological discourse as license. This book allows those today with the same or similar desires to come to McCleneghan, and receive the same dispensation.


Good Christian Sex coverAbout Good Christian Sex

  • Paperback: 256 pages

  • Publisher: HarperOne (July 5, 2016)

    Many Christians in this country hear a singular ethic from their faith communities – absolute abstinence outside of marriage, and no exceptions – regarding abortion, birth control, and being gay. As a result of this inflexible approach, many simply disengage, disconnecting their sex lives from their lives of faith.

    In Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option – And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, Pastor Bromleigh McCleneghan grapples with the enduring conflict of Christianity and sex. She combines personal anecdotes with theological research, and uses a measured, non-judgmental, and sometimes humorous†tone to make her case. She lays out theological and ethical questions that arise in the average, everyday†experience of adult sexuality, and informs readers through these discussions in a clear and engaging way. In this much needed book, she:

    • Addresses the theological sense of pleasure.
    • Encourages people to think about virginity and sexual initiation as complex things.
    • Discusses modesty, nudity, and what it means to be vulnerable with other people.
    • Reflects on whether or not single Christians have to be celibate.
    • Considers how to recognize whether itís time to end a relationship, or make a go of it.

    Pastor McCleneghan concludes that it is possible to bridge the gap between sin and human nature, providing†hope where confusion, conflict or frustration had been, and lifting the veil of shame felt by many religious†people. Good Christian Sex†provides a much needed perspective that will liberate Christians to finally†express their sexuality in realistic ways that are aligned with their faith.

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    Bromleigh McCleneghan APAbout Bromleigh McCleneghan

    Bromleigh McCleneghan is Associate Pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is the co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian Century, Ministry Matters, Fideliaís Sisters, Circuit Rider, Criterion, and the website of The United Methodist Church. More at www.bromleighm.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Book Review: “Lessons From the East” by Bob Roberts Jr


    I was recently offered an advance copy of “Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church” by Bob Roberts Jr to review for this blog. Since she enjoyed the last review she did and wanted this one as well, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.

    You know, I like to think I know things. Well, I feel like I know a few things at least and am reasonably confident that I know how some things should work. I know Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 by heart (or used to…). I know how to scramble an egg (with bacon grease, of course, being a good, civilized Southern lady). I know how to play Pachelbel’s Canon on piano. I know how to beat a large foam ball until it looks exactly like a heavily cratered moon. And like a lot of American Christians, I’m fairly certain I know church. And “how to” church, so to speak. You bow your head when you pray, you sit in your designated pew at your local church, you put some money in the collection plate when it passes by, you sing a few hymns slightly off-key (but not too loudly, let’s not get carried away now). Maybe you invite someone from work to come to Sunday School with you or you pitch in for some community service. It’s a well-oiled machine of a system and you know it well. And a good many American Christians are comfortable with the routine. It’s not too hard. It doesn’t really require much out of you except on Sundays and maybe Wednesday night. But what if… what if that view of proper churching was incomplete? Or even spiritually inadequate? Bob Roberts book, “Lessons from the East” sets out to shake up the Western view of the church’s purpose and how the church functions.

    The book is written as a challenge and a call to arms for American ministers, pastors, and church leaders. Basically, it says, if you think you know how to successfully grow or plant a church, you probably are wrong. Roberts uses examples of his extensive world travels and visits with world religious and secular leaders to convince the reader to rethink concepts that may have seemed a given, like what a successful church looks like. Well, clearly it’s one with an extremely large worship sanctuary and thousands of people attending any one of the multiple services, with just the right amount of projectors and screens, a nice sound system, and reasonably talented praise band. Everyone reads just the right books and speaks just the right words. Even better if the church is supporting multiple missions in a handful of countries. And if your church doesn’t look like that despite your best recruiting and fundraising effort, despite having followed THE tried and true formula for structuring church… sorry, Pastor… guess it’s just not in the cards for you to be one of the “good” preachers. Or maybe it’s the Enemy who is keeping the masses from busting down the doors to hear your sermon. Or maybe if you had had a hipper youth program, families would have flocked to join. But certainly not your methods, right?

    Roberts proposes that you are looking at it all wrong. According to him, mistake number one that you made is that you failed to actually serve your community. Not communities in Africa or Asia or Central America but the one you are living in. You failed to meet the needs of people around you. Before you build a church, address the needs of the locals. In other parts of the world, that might look like provide access to clean water or creating gardens to produce food. Here it might look like providing childcare to single working parents. Serving others shows you truly care and wins their trust and respect. Roberts stresses respect as a vital tool in creating a successful church. Respect for customs and religions of other cultures and strong sense of kindness has gained Roberts access to areas in the Middle East and Asia that are usually more difficult for Christian missionaries to visit.

    Second mistake you made was wanting to build a mega church when instead you should be forming cell churches focused on discipleship. He explains cell churches are similar to the small group movements in a lot of American churches but not nearly as categorized. Instead of youth groups and women’s groups and singles’ groups, they need to be diverse with people of various ages, social statuses, and interests so they can help each other grow spiritually.

    And lastly, you had a picture of what YOU thought good proper church should look like. You never asked God what it needed to look like. Maybe He needs it to look like a couple of families gathered together in someone’s home. Maybe it looks like a group of coworkers that gather in breakroom during lunch.

    I’m not a church leader. I’m not a preacher. I don’t even teach a Sunday School class. So what did I get out of the book? A question that kept popping up in my mind was “What do you want to be when you are a grown Christian?” I want to be kind. I want to be compassionate, to others and serve with a glad heart at every chance. I want to live my life in such a way that to mention I believe in God is redundant. To love others in such a way as to remind them of the much greater and infinite love that God has for them. I don’t want to be good at churching; I want to be good at following Christ. I never want to get so lost in the ritual that I forget the reason. I want to break down my expectations and allow His will to work through me.

    I don’t want to know church; I want to know God.