Monday, July 23, 2012

A Survey of the Bible’s Influence on Western Civilization


Review of 

The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization 
By Vishal Mangalwadi
Thomas Nelson, 2011 (464 pp, $22.99, hardcover) 
 

Rating: 3.5/5
  
In his book, The Book That Made Your World, author Vishal Mangalwadi surveys the Bible’s influence on the development of Western Civilization and his native India. Mangalwadi outlines the Bible’s impact on several features of civilization that are (or began as) Western ideas such as technology, heroism, science, and family and explains how modern man has begun (or has succeeded) to remove these ideas from their Biblical foundation. As such, he argues, the West has lost its soul and must return to the truth of God’s Word in order to avoid the consequences that have resulted from rejecting the Bible’s authority.

Mangalwadi expertly draws upon many resources to deliver an excellent history of the Bible’s influence on each facet of Western Civilization. It was very interesting to read the story of how early Bible translators such as William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and John Wycliffe all risked their lives in order to bring the truth of the Bible into the hands of laypeople so that they could judge their own lives and the actions of authority figures according to the Holy Word of God.

While I appreciated Mangalwadi’s survey of the Bible’s influence on Western Civilization, I was oftentimes distracted and disinterested in his descriptions of how the Bible westernized his native India. I acknowledge Mangalwadi has served faithfully in India for many years and has learned much about India’s history; yet he loses the focus of his book when he delineates the Bible’s impact on India as opposed to concerning himself purely with how the Bible created Western Civilization (especially as it evidenced itself in Europe and the United States). It was during these sections that I found myself losing interest and desiring to skip ahead to return to the primary focus of the book.

Overall, Mangalwadi presents a broad survey of how the Bible shaped Western Civilization in a complete work that will likely cause readers to seek out additional titles related to the various facets of the West explored in this book. While this is certainly not a quick or easy read, it is a valuable examination of the tremendous influence of the Bible on Western Civilization.

Review by Tyler Constable

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Marriage as a Love Story in the Midst of War


Review of

Love and War: Find Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage
By John and Stasi Eldredge
WaterBrook Press, 2011 (222 pp, $14.99, paperback)

Rating 5/5

Cover from bn.com

F
ew people have blessed Christians by their words of what it means to be a man or woman of God than authors John and Stasi Eldredge. John, author of Wild at Heart, and Stasi, author of Captivating, team up in their latest book, Love & War, to discuss the realities of Christian marriage and to offer truths they have discovered through their twenty-five years of marriage. Their primary goal is to assure the reader that marriage is indeed difficult but that it is always worth fighting for. For it is when Christian couples dedicate themselves and their marriages to God that they will truly learn to love themselves, their spouse, and others as God intended them to love.

A primary theme appears several times throughout the book:  “We live in a love story that is set in the midst of a very real war.” The love story is twofold; not only does the Bible begin with the marriage of Adam and Eve in Eden and end with the marriage of Christ in Revelation to his bride, the church, but the love story also includes us in that God is at his very essence love (1 John 4:16), that he demonstrated his love for us through his offering of his Son, Jesus Christ,  and our greatest commands in the Bible revolve around the idea of love (Luke 10:27, among others). 

The war in which this love story is set is the present spiritual war on earth as a result of sin entering the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us that “the whole world lies under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and that Satan, in fact, scours the whole earth, “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). John and Stasi effectively persuade the reader to recognize the reality of the spiritual war in which we live. We have an enemy who desires to tear apart our marriage in order to prevent the work God is doing in our lives. John and Stasi successfully detail the ways in which Satan might work against our marriages and advocate diligent, persistent prayer together as our primary weapon against Satan’s attacks.

Though the enemy attempts to infiltrate our marriages, God ultimately fulfills his purposes. As a part of a love story in the midst of war, John and Stasi argue that God created marriage to be a “living, breathing portrait laid out before the eyes of the world so that they might see the story of the ages.” That is, God uses marriage as “the image of his love for his people, and our love for him.” One of the most profound moments I experienced while reading this book was allowing this truth to sink in, to recognize that God gives marriage such an important evangelistic role (and humbly acknowledging that I had not fully appreciated it before).
Moreover, I was most moved by a section explaining how God utilizes marriage not only for evangelistic purposes, but to transform those who are married. John and Stasi write:

“God lures us into marriage through life and sex and loneliness, or simply the fact that someone finally paid attention – all those reasons that you got married in the first place. It doesn’t really matter, he’ll do whatever it takes. He lures us into marriage and then uses it to transform us” (original emphasis).

Though we may enter marriage for any number of reasons (as noble as they might seem), God will use marriage to reveal to us our brokenness and cause us to rely more on him.

Overall, John and Stasi Eldredge encourage their readers to reflect upon their marriages and to prayerfully consider the issues contained in the book with their spouse rather than relying on the ever-so-popular “follow these simple steps and experience everlasting joy now” approach. John and Stasi are extremely honest in this book, sharing many stories from their own marriage (both highs and lows). It was encouraging to read that such a successful couple also deals with difficulties in marriage (they admit to having had seriously considered divorce two times during their marriage).

Love & War is an excellent book for couples to read together to consider their own patterns of living, the way they relate to their spouse, the way they interpret their spouse’s actions, the way they think about spiritual warfare, and how they can better meet the needs of their spouse – all while seeking the Lord’s will together through their marriage. John and Stasi deliver yet another Christian classic that will encourage its readers to not merely settle for a courteous d├ętente, but to continuously strive to strengthen and redeem their marriages in order to experience together the wild adventure God intends marriage to be.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

- Reviewed by Tyler Constable

Please rank my review below so that I can continue to receive books from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group to review!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Look!

As you may have noticed, Books (in Brief) received a makeover today, complete with a fancy new header, some additional gadgets in the sidebar, and a new page with a link to other ventures I author. Let me know what you think of the new changes and keep checking back for more reviews and news!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Comforting, Convincing Glimpse into Heaven

Review of
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
By Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
Thomas Nelson, 2010 (163 pp, $16.99, paperback)

Rating 4/5

Cover image from heavenisforreal.net
When I first heard about this book, I was skeptical that it would (or even could) provide its readers a glimpse into Heaven. In fact, I almost refused to read it as a way of letting others know that I did not agree with the idea of God “revealing” Heaven to people today. It just seemed too prone to poor interpretation and too easy of a way to get Christians to buy a book about what Heaven is like. Yet after my wife convinced me to read this short book, I came away convinced that God gave this little boy a visit to Heaven.

The book tells the story of Colton, a four-year-old boy who nearly died from a mysterious ailment that doctors later discovered to be a ruptured appendix. It was during an emergency surgery that young Colton was taken to Heaven where he saw the throne room of God, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, winged angels, his deceased grandfather whom he had never met, and his unborn sister.

For years after this extraordinary event, Todd Burpo, Colton’s father, collected many of the observations and experiences Colton had while he was in Heaven through conversations with Colton. What convinced Burpo that Colton’s journey was genuine was his ability to provide him with information Colton could not have known. For instance, Colton was able to tell his father exactly where he was and what he was doing during the time he was in Heaven (during his surgery). In fact, he said that the reason he was sent back from Heaven was because of his father’s emotional (and admittedly) angry prayers in that moment.

What makes the boy’s tale so convincing are the Scripturally-sound observations Colton made while in Heaven. For example, Colton was able to recall that Jesus told him that his cousin baptized him, that Jesus had a beautiful horse to ride on, the vast array of colors present in Heaven, the fantastically white appearance of Jesus’ clothes, the places where Jesus was pierced while he was crucified (which Colton described as red “markers”), and the side of God’s throne at which Jesus sits. These are all observations that would be impossible for a pre-school student to know with perfect accuracy.

I was most touched and comforted by the sections on the Burpo’s unborn child. As a parent of an unborn child myself, it was very comforting and exciting to read Colton’s account of his interactions with his unborn sister while it was heart wrenching to read about his longing to see her again. While I recognize that this book is not Scriptural, it was incredibly encouraging to read that I may be able to meet my unborn child some day in Heaven.

This book is a very quick read and can probably be completed in a sitting or two. As much as I enjoyed the content of this book, I found some chapters and sections in this book to be unnecessary and seem to have only been added in order to add pages to the book. I recommend this book to anyone looking for encouragement amidst an unbelieving world and especially for parents of miscarried or stillborn children. This book left me believing that little Colton found out first-hand that Heaven is for real.

- Reviewed by Tyler Constable

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Disappointing Guide for Clueless Men

Review of

For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women
By Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
Multnomah Books, 2006 (190 pp, $14.99, hardcover)

Rating 3/5

Following in the shadow of his wife’s wildly popular book For Women Only, Jeff Feldhahn attempts to serve as the guide for clueless men through the female brain in his book, For Men Only. This book is largely the result of a professional survey Feldhahn conducted of thousands of women nationwide during the aftermath of his wife’s popular For Women Only title. Maintaining a very relaxed, conversational tone, Feldhahn provides men with most women’s true opinions on reassurance, emotions, security, listening, sex, and beauty.

I was initially displeased with Feldhahn’s writing style; he is too conversational and tries to appeal to too broad of an audience with his incessant use of poor catchphrases. For example, to help his male readers remember his steps for listening to their wives effectively, Feldhahn enlists the baseball diamond to remind his readers to give full physical attention to their wives at first base while listening for her emotional feelings about a concern before their sprint towards home plate. It is his dedication to something I can only call “trying to be cool” that kept me from taking many of his arguments seriously, as valid as they might have been.

Once one can filter through Feldhahn’s relaxed sentences, he will discover that there are some valuable, practical pieces of advice offered in this book. I found the advice offered in the chapter on listening to be especially useful as it afforded me the opportunity to understand my wife in ways in which I never understood her before reading this book. Feldhahn’s advice to listen for the emotional problem (as opposed to the logical, practical problem men often only consider) within your wife’s stories of concern is excellent and has changed the way I listen to my wife after a long day at work.

My greatest issue with this book, however, has nothing to do with Feldhahn’s arguments, but with the publisher. This book possesses one of the most irritating layouts I have ever seen. Nearly every page contains some sort of deviation from plain text, whether by bullet point, section heading, poll result, sidebar, or (most annoyingly) block quotes. The block quotes in this book typically contain sentences read in the last ten seconds and are frankly rarely worth the 20-percent page area they assume. A simpler, more focused layout would have permitted me to take his arguments more seriously.

While the book does offer pieces of practical advice on a wide range of issues, Feldhahn (and his publishers) delivers a largely disappointing book that leaves men waiting for a title that will take a more serious, Bible-centered approach to the way women think and behave.

- Reviewed by Tyler Constable
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.




Monday, April 18, 2011

Helpful Resource When Faced With Tough Questions

Review of

Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions
By Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson, 2010 (254 pp, $24.99, hardcover)

Rating 4/5

Prolific Christian author Max Lucado has received many questions from his readers over the past several decades. Lucado, who has written over 50 books and has been the pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas since 1988, seeks to provide answers and guidance to over 170 of these questions in his newest book, Max on Life.

What impressed me about this book is the vast range of topics Lucado addresses. Drawing upon his decades of pastoral experience, Lucado grants insight into many topics ranging from issues at home (marriage issues, how best to raise children, sex, and financial and job troubles), to issues concerning the church (is baptism necessary for salvation, disagreements amongst believers, denominational differences, what to say about homosexuality), to some of the most common questions frequently asked about Christianity (why bad things happen to good people, how to manage a guilty conscience, forgiveness, why Christians sometimes act like their pagan neighbors, what happens to unbelievers when they die).

Most impressively, Lucado tackles each of these topics in a way that is very accessible to most readers, regardless of their background knowledge of Christianity. He frequently answers each question by relating the situation to a real-life anecdote or to a story from the Bible. After introducing the issue, he proceeds to offer his advice or insight into the matter, always encouraging the reader to look heavenward and into God’s Word for ultimate resolution. 

Overall, Lucado provides an excellent resource to people in ministry and to those who find themselves among people who often ask tough questions about all facets of Christian life. Lucado skillfully uses Scripture to back up his arguments and insights. The editors expertly organized this book into concise 1-2 page entries that each focus on a specific issue. The book also includes a topical and Scripture index for easy access to a specific question to which the reader seeks an answer. I highly recommend this book and believe it to be an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone in ministry – whether by profession or not. 

- Reviewed by Tyler Constable

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Favorite Passages #4: Strong, Firm, and Steadfast

God has provided me with me tremendous comfort recently through this Bible verse. I trust that God will provide you comfort through this verse as well amidst the struggles you are facing.

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast."

- 1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)