Downtime, Helping Teenagers Pray by Mark Yaconelli (El Cajon, CA: Zondervon, 2008), pp. 286, paper $21.50

This is yet another book by Mark Yaconelli attempting to promote contemplative Christian living among young people (see his Contemplative Youth Ministry and Growing Souls).   Although much of Downtime speaks of prayer, the real topic of the book is rest—how to find relief from anxiety, with prayer being the means of providing that relief (pp. 19, 23-25, 43, 59, 60, 67, 136-140). Yaconelli believes the best way to obtain this kind of rest is through practicing the methods found in ancient Christian tradition.  By Christian tradition what the author means is the Roman Catholic contemplative tradition found in the life of the desert fathers and mothers and various Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics (pp. 21, 128, 137,268, 270, 273).  He draws his teaching almost exclusively from the mystics: Meister Eckhart (pp. 27, 33, 35, 167)Brother Lawrence (pp. 36, 55, 186)St. Seraphim (p. 50)Thomas Merton (p. 54)Teresa of Avila (pp....

Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001, 298 pp., $16.99.

Welch makes clear from the outset what he is trying to accomplish: “What is the basic point of this book?  Theology makes a difference.  It is the infrastructure of our lives.  Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins.  Build it well and you will be prepared for anything.  The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup.  Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship” (p. XVI). The author interacts much with the teachings of Alcohol Anonymous, recognizing a number of positive features of the program but identifying its limitations as well.  One of his major concerns with AA is that while it teaches that addictions are sinful (or wrong) choices it ultimately promotes the disease model (p. 37).  When sin is seen as a disease, both its DNA and its cure is changed from the biblical teachings which...

I Surrender All by Clay and Renee Crosse, with Mark Tabb (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 173 pp. paper $9.99

I Surrender All is the true story about well-known Christian recording artist Clay Crosse’s enslavement to pornography which nearly destroyed his marriage, his career and his life.  As Clay admits, he was never a strong Christian but the Lord had gifted him with marvelous singing ability.  With his breakout song “I Surrender All” in 1994 Clay was catapulted to the upper echelons of the Christian entertainment world.  Clay saw himself as an entertainer, not a minister, and while his music lifted high the enthusiasm of his audiences, his spiritual life bounced along near bottom.  Clay and his wife Renee were content to enjoy the fruits of success: money, possessions, awards and applause.  Neither saw the need for a deeper walk with God, seldom reading the Bible or being involved in their local church.  In addition, they had desensitized themselves against worldly habits and amusements, so it was just a...

Uneclipsing the Son by Rick Holland, The Woodlands, TX: Lress Biblical Resources, 2011, 146 pp. paper $12.00

Uneclipsing the Son offers a simple, solid reminder that the Christian life is all about Christ.  In the clutter of living this is a message that we all need to hear.  Holland’s thesis is that in the many activities and options available to the believer our focus on Christ is easily eclipsed.  Sin, in particular, causes Christians to lose their passion for the Lord.  To “uneclipse” the Son it is necessary to step back and “recalibrate, refocus, re-energize, renew and recommit” (p. 111).  Holland offers many suggestions on how to do this including remembering the gospel (pp. 14-23), renewing affection for Christ (p. 66), fighting sin (pp. 86-89) and understanding and participating in the Lord’s Table, to which he devotes a whole chapter (pp. 111-121). Uneclipsing the Son is good stuff—biblical, practical, easy to read, and providing a message that we all need to take to heart.  This would...

Sanctuary of the Soul, Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011, 166 pp. Paper $16.00

Sanctuary of the Soul is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  The Sanctuary of the Soul adds virtually nothing to Foster’s previous works all the way back to his Celebration of Discipline written in 1978.  He still draws from the same sources of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker mystics:  Teresa of Avila (p. 29, 38, 78-79, 152), St John of the Cross (p. 81), Thomas Kelly (p. 33), Agnes Sanford (pp. 121, 141, p. 43), Francis de Sales (p. 38), George Fox (p. 34, 54), Henry Nouwen (pp. 42-43), St. Benedict (p. 46, 90), Thomas Merton (pp. 61, 131, 135), Evelyn Underhill (pp. 62, 105), Mother Teresa (pp. 66, 134), Kierkegaard (pp. 66, 144), Madame Guyon (pp. 73-75) and St. Francis (p. 135).  It is from these “masters of the spiritual life” (p. 36) that Foster...

Sacred Chaos, Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Have, by Tricia McCary Rhodes, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008, pp. 183, paper $10.00

Sacred Chaos is published by the formatio arm of InterVarsity Press which is dedicated to producing books promoting spiritual formation and mysticism.  Rhodes’s book would be typical of formatio publications, many of which I have already reviewed.  She mostly recommends the same ancient Roman Catholic practices that other authors in the series recommend: The Jesus Prayer (pp. 115-117), spiritual breathing (p. 64), lectio divina (pp. 68-71), use of icons, incense, candles, prayer beads, etc. (p. 75), finding your divine center (p. 76), consultations (pp. 93-98), the prayer of examen (pp. 100-104, 164), breath prayer (p. 106) and fasting (p. 130).  The usual sources are quoted and recommended: Theophan the Recluse (p. 9), Anne Rice (pp. 37-38), Mother Teresa (pp. 63, 126-127), Thomas Kelly (p. 76), Catherine of Siena (p. 77), Bernard of Clairvaux (p. 77), Madame Guyon (pp. 79-81), Francois Fénelon (p. 81), Ignatius of Loyola (pp. 100, 102),...

No More Christian Nice Guy, by Paul Coughlin (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2005) 224 pp, paper $13.99

Paul Coughlin has recognized a real problem that exists in the Christian community and indeed throughout Western society.  In the last couple of generations men have lost what it means to be men.  In general, some men err on the side of aggressiveness while others become passive, even doormats in order to avoid conflict and trouble (pp. 83, 139, 217-218).  It is the latter group that Coughlin targets, calling for masculine men who are neither passive nor aggressive but assertive (p. 93).  The catalyst for the author’s concern is his own life as a passive, Christian Nice Guy (CNG) stemming from his abusive home life and his training in the church.    Coughlin believes it is time for a new approach—one that he believes has not been in much use for 2,000 years (p. 27).  The back cover tells us “John Eldredge gave men permission to be ‘Wild at Heart.’ ...

No More Christian Nice Girl by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. Degler, PhD. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 224 pp. paper $14.99

While No More Christian Nice Girl is co-authored by Paul Coughlin who wrote No More Christian Nice Guy (see my review) this book has a very different flavor.  Gone are the majority of the over-generalizations (not all) and the often belligerent tone.  However, Nice Girl is far more psychological in nature, as one might expect from the co-author Jennifer Degler who is a licensed psychologist.  This book could be categorized as a self-help manual drawing almost entirely from psychological and observational sources.  It is by no means, however, a book based on the Bible.  Scripture is rarely used, and when it is it usually is taken out of context or distorted.  There are references along the way of the assertive side of Jesus, and a helpful appendix doing the same, but the principles found within this volume do not primarily emerge from Scripture. And therein lies the major flaw...

Politics–According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem. Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2010, 619 pp, cloth $35.00

Politics—According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem applies the teachings of Scripture to key political issues and argues for Christian involvement. The author makes no attempt to find a middle-ground position that appeals to all, but allows his hermeneutic to drive his conclusions. This work heavily favors the Republican platform. The book is divided into three parts: Basic Principles, Specific Applications and Concluding Observations. The first part supports Grudem’s thesis of significant Christian influence, outlines the role of government, touches upon a Christian worldview and examines the power of the judiciary. What is the purpose of civil government? Does the Bible support democracy? Should believers only vote for Christian candidates? Grudem’s answers are thought-provoking, most notably, his discussion of ultimate power in a nation (pp. 124-150). However, not all of part one is adequate as Grudem only has four pages of biblical support for his position of significant influence...

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg. Grand Rapids, Zondervan , 2002. 269 pp. Hard, $18.99

Ortberg, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, published The Life You’ve Always Wanted in 1997 and expanded it in 2002.  The book provides a good taste of the style and content of the teaching at Willow Creek and its many clones.  Concerning style Ortberg is entertaining, interesting and enjoyable.  He uses freely and well numerous stories and illustrations that present his understanding of the Christian life as inviting.As for content much of what Ortberg offers is helpful, practical and biblical.  The book, however, is heavily laced with the teachings, and teachers, of mysticism and Roman Catholic traditions and rituals.  The authors he draws from and quotes are a virtual Who’s—Who of mystics both past and present: Richard Foster (pp. 9, 81, 100, 112, 113, 143)Dallas Willard (pp. 10, 27, 35, 43, 52, 66, 92, 106)St. John of the Cross (pp. 36, 157)Thomas Kelly (pp. 76, 140, 150)Thomas...