Book Review

Review: United: Captured by God’s Design for Diversity

I was more excited than I expected to be when I picked up United: Captured by God’s Design for Diversity by Trillia Newbell. Recent events in the news (specifically, the incidents in Ferguson, MO, and the case surrounding Eric Garner, among others as they come) have opened the door to curiosity regarding diversity and how we as believers ought to respond.

If you’re looking for a book offering instruction about what to think, what to do, and how to do it in regards to ethnic diversity, you would probably be better served by reading Bloodlines by John Piper or looking into Thabiti Anyabwile’s positions. (Newbell refers to both often throughout the book. I haven't read Bloodlines, and I have only a cursory understanding of Anyabwile's views.)

However, if you’re looking for a conversation with a friend about diversity and ethnicity, this is the book for you. Newbell is black, married to a white man, mother of two biracial kids, a believer in Christ, and maybe the only female voice I’ve come across in diversity talks. She writes of her experiences growing up in the South, about coming to know Christ, and of digging in at a church where she was close to the only black woman (if not the only one). She speaks passionately about her desire for her own church to grow in diversity, and how she worked to “be the change.” As I read it, it felt like I was getting to know my friend Trillia (whom I've never met) and her experiences, convictions, and encouragements for believers and the Church. All of this comes across as one who cares deeply and wants to help others care about this important issue, without blaming or preachiness.

Newbell clearly knows the answer to the question of “Why diversity?”, but refuses to answer with a theological treatise. Instead, she asks, “How can we fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations if we all seek only churches in which we are comfortable? Does God call me to be uncomfortable and fulfill all my needs?” (116). She subtly helps readers see that diversity is about missions. “The pursuit of diversity is important, yes, but not because it’s trendy, this generation’s ‘hip thing.’ It’s important because the nations fill God’s world” (127). Additionally, diversity is about loving other people made in the image of God. “Diversity is worth having because diversity is about people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be (Psalm 8:3-4)?” (135).

Newbell spends much of the book talking about her relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity. She discusses how she came to be discipled by a white girl alongside a Chinese girl, and how they experience the family of God together despite their differences. She encourages churches to foster diversity, and exhorts readers to pray, evangelize, show hospitality, go (and support churches building multiethnic congregations), and stay (“We can stay in situations that may be uncomfortable yet are good, because we believe the Lord has us there for the purpose of building His church, even if we are lonely snowflakes” [124].)

United is a helpful book for believers wondering how to have a conversation about ethnicity in a time where the issue is charged. Newbell encourages us to seek diversity in our lives and in our churches, to the glory of God.

Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

I can't think of a single book that, upon finishing, I felt the immediate desire to flip back to page one. Until The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.

I quickly saw why Chesterton and C.S. Lewis are often linked. If The Chronicles of Narnia paints pictures of creation, redemption, God's sovereignty and faithfulness, and the believer's life on earth and in heaven, then The Man Who Was Thursday in a sense allegorizes both the creation narrative and The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15).

A quick synopsis: Gabriel Syme is recruited to be a policeman whose only job is to combat the growing threat of the anarchist movement. He goes undercover in a group of anarchists and quickly gains rank. Upon learning of a plan to assassinate a political leader after being among the leadership of the anarchist group, Syme attempts to thwart the attack and dismantle the group, only to find people along the way who were also undercover policemen on the same mission. (I'll refrain from going further as spoilers abound!)

The book has several overarching themes, which you can really only piece together once you've finished reading the book. (Chesterton keeps you guessing the whole time.) None of these will spoil the book for you, I promise.

1. Anarchy versus Law – This is the only one that's obvious throughout, but the resolution is not what you would expect. The key to this is the phrase,“Sin is lawlessness.”

2. What is the one thing all people seek but never catch? “…You will have found out the truth of the last tree and the topmost cloud before the truth about me. You will understand the sea, and I shall still be a riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am. Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf–kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophies. But I have never been caught yet, and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay. I have given them a good turn for their money, and I will now” (130). You'll have to read the book if you want the answer. Or take a guess.

3. Destruction versus Creation – The anarchist seeks to make everyone as he is – miserable, destitute, under the delusion that the power to destroy is ultimate power. The anarchist cries out for the suffering of all that could be called good, and says that “the unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme” (154). His enemy is the Creator, whose good intentions cannot be thwarted by a stick of dynamite.

4. Why we suffer – Chesterton maintains that all suffer, the policeman (Christian) and the anarchist (unbeliever) alike. He seems to argue that the suffering of the believer not only allows him to identify with Christ's suffering but also to expose Satan's lie – that God doesn't care, and doesn't know the hardship believers face because He never suffered. The cross exposes this lie, and the suffering of believers is a continual reminder of Christ's condescension for the lawless world.

This is only one chart of four that I made after reading the book, so consider this a greatly abridged review. I highly recommend reading this book. It's unexpectedly challenging as it graciously invites the reader to consider the ideas within.

Review: Rid of My Disgrace

I read a lot of books dealing with counseling in the church. One of the most helpful and accessible books I've read is Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. I prefer to post a more in-depth review, but Crossway is offering the ebook for $0.99 right now, so go for it!

Rid of My Disgrace is narrow in focus -- it's geared toward victims of sexual assault (and toward those who are trying to help). The book drips with grace as the Holcombs seek to recover those who have been so violently exposed as a result of the heinous acts against them. Since this is a less comprehensive post, I'll list a few quotes as further encouragement to add this to your library. (I'd post page numbers but I doubt my ebook corresponds to the physical copy.)

To your experience of one-way violence, God brings one-way love.... One way love does not avoid you, but comes near, not because of personal merit but because of your need. It is the lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. One-way love is the change agent you need for the pain you are experiencing.

What victims need are not self-produced positive statements but God's statements about his response to their pain.... Grace transforms and heals; and healing comes by hearing God's statements to you, not speaking your own statements to yourself.

(God) already sees, hears, and knows your suffering and is facing it in its fullness even before you cried out. Now he is inviting you to face it with him, not alone.

Victims often fail to realize that God's own sorrow for what has happened is deep and profound. Mourn. Grieve. Cry. God is grieved by and angry at what happened to you. He is even more grieved and angry than you are, so you are invited to participate with God in his grief and anger.

If you are in Christ, your identity is deeper than any of your wounds.

Self-love and self-help do not work because we'll never peel back enough layers of ourselves to find the true self at the core that is pure and lovable. We need a bigger love to rescue us, one that overcomes the effects of the fall and restores to us the dignity that has been lost.

Belonging to God means that you are valuable to God, that God is concerned about you, that God sees and knows you, and that God cares about you more than you do.

*All quotes are taken from Rid of My Disgrace.

Review: The Measure of Success

Carolyn McCulley has been a favorite author of mine for a few years. She's in her fifties, unmarried, and talks about Jesus in a straight-forward, unflowery way. I appreciate that. Her most recent book, The Measure of Success, is co-authored by Nora Shank, and aims at the complicated topic of women and work. McCulley and Shank write about work as women who work hard at what they do, whether it's owning a small business or raising little people.

"Our culture believes that we are self-made people and that we can achieve whatever we want to do. But the Bible emphasizes over and over again that we are merely recipients of grace. All that we have is a gift from God."

The book is broken into three sections: the story of work (history), the theology of work, and the life cycle of work.

"God has a purpose for our productivity. He uses our daily labors as a means of grace to other people and a way to learn more about Him."

Sadly, I can imagine many women setting aside the book in the history section, not because it isn't helpful, but because readers may not sense any immediate application. It describes the livelihood of the home, which was the center of business for millennia, as well as the slow shift from men and women working at home to finding work outside the home in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, of course, the Mommy Wars have drawn lines in the sand, attempting to force women to make a choice between career and family. This history of work is extraordinarily helpful as women navigate cultural expectations. McCulley and Shank intentionally take no side in this debate, but acknowledge that work inside the home and work outside the home are both work. I could imagine their position to be a relief to countless women who are wracked by guilt or indecision. One of the most helpful points of the book is on ambition. McCulley and Shank argue that women don't pursue ambition. They refer to the overused (and often misused) Proverbs 31 woman, pointing out that much of her description comes from her ambition to be resourceful and wise to the benefit of her family. Sure, the passage talks about her beauty and how highly people think of her, but McCulley and Shank strongly fight against limiting her description to those items. Instead, they paint a picture of a woman who works hard, is resourceful, and intentionally thinks of ways to care for her family -- even taking risks for the kingdom of God and for her family.

"Christian women should be eager to develop their gifts (husband, children, spiritual gifts), widen their opportunities (professionally and personally), extend their influence (in the church and community)... so that in everything they do they can bring glory to God."

In short, I highly recommend this book to every woman seeking to honor the Lord in her work.