4 Stars: Covenant Child by Teri Blackstock

If you are looking for an edifying Christian fiction book that will magnify your love of God, you've come to the right place. Living up to her reputation as a leader Christian fiction author, Teri Blackstock's writing skills are far superior than other authors. Blackstone weaves a very enjoyable and captivating story about family and love in this re-telling of the the prodigal son story. This book leaves readers with a lingering though: "Wow, how beautiful is this story of a savior and an inheritance that sounds too good to be true." This is a story about grace and an inheritance that is free.

Readers should know that this book does not focus directly on Christianity, Jesus or God, as the main characters are not Christian or shown praying or coming to believe in Christ. I wouldn't have expected to recommend a book where the main characters don't become Christian, but the thing I loved about this book is that by the end, I believe most readers will see God through this story in a stronger way than all those Christian fiction books that portray Christian main characters.

The story is about redemption and a savior who loves unconditionally. The story shows the main characters come to believe their "savior" (a mother in this fiction story) has good intentions towards them and is not "too good to be true" and not "seeking to use them" and when they finally realize this life with their mother/savior is the thing they want the most, their mother/savior is standing with open arms, welcoming them home. Her love for them is unconditional and she freely forgives their rejection and hatred of her. The only thing missing from this story is relating the mother/savior to Jesus Christ. The reader must ponder the story afterwards to see the deeper meaning.

Readers should be aware that this book may not be appropriate for younger audiences: underage girls are sleeping around without any remorse or regret or repentance, molestation from father, child abuse from parents, alcoholism, gambling, drug abuse, one severe beating, deaths, abortion with no lasting/deep consequences and very difficult life situations.

My disclaimer - I received this book from the publisher but I am not required to give a positive review. I always give brutally honest reviews and attempt to critically point out parts of the book that may not agree with the Bible and so not appeal to others. I want you readers to be able to confidently choose a book based on the stars I give it, because I know you have limited money, time and energy to read. So let's make the most of our lives and discern and choose the very best books wisely.

2 Stars: Honest Wrestling by K. Howard Joslin

Honest Wrestling is the diary account of a family's struggle to keep the faith through three miscarriages, joblessness and the loss of Ann, a wife and mother, to cancer. Their struggle is real and their diary entries are deeply sad and touching. Readers may learn worthwhile lessons from their examples. It was beautiful to read Ann's diary entries and see her continuously praising God through her pain and cancer, praying and holding out hope until the very end. It was her faith and strength that encouraged her husband, Howard Joslin, a Dallas Theological Seminary grad, to not turn against God in hatred but to hold out hope that God is good. After Ann's death, when Howard went through a period of doubting God's existence, he remembered many of Ann's prayers that God had clearly answered.

One of the most touching parts of this book was to read about Ann's faithful praises and prayers through three miscarriages. While her husband went through another period of anger towards God, she continued to hold out hope and ask God for another child in the example of a woman named Hannah in 1 Samuel. Just like Hannah, the Lord answered Ann's prayers and granted her a healthy baby girl, which she rightfully named Hannah.

Sadly, it seems the struggle Howard Joslin has with loving and trusting God is greatly magnified by his incorrect theology and beliefs about God. While Ann's diary entries are mostly filled with praises to God and hope, most of Howard's are angry, doubting and hostile towards God. From the beginning of the book to the end, Howard wrestles with questions of God's goodness, continuously asking "What the heck?" after each bump in his life: from unemployment to getting a difficult job to not getting the job he wanted. Howard's anger towards God is magnified because he believes he is entitled to good things and shakes his fist at God for not giving Howard the pleasures in life that Howard wants. Howard's theology and life are self-centered instead of god-centered. But the truth is that God doesn't owe humans anything and we should be grateful for every day that He sustains our very breath and provides for even our most basic needs. As humans, we can get so spoiled and start demanding blessings from God and forget to be thankful for each and ever blessing the Father does give us, including the blessing of life itself! Paul writes, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you."

Clips from Howard's writings:
- "But in my discouragement (over being unemployed) I couldn't bring myself to sing. How could I sing if I wasn't convinced that God really was good? He sure didn't seem like it."
- "God's encore was a failure to provide that perfect job at the symphony. It was close to the seminary, had a short work week and even paid well. What the heck?"

One of the most important lessons that can be learned from this book is to see how Howard's incorrect Arminian theology warped his worldview and lead to false beliefs about God and these false beliefs lead to false thinking, false feelings, incorrect actions and a life of anger, doubting and misery. Howard's incorrect theology was exasperated by his learning from unreliable sources: Dallas Theological Seminary (confused seminary school that teaches a confused mix between Calvinism and Arminianism) and reading Arminian authors (some with a reputation of writing "fluff") and all who teach confused theologies that do not teach the truth about man's relationship to God and the purpose of suffering: Philip Yancy, Max Lucado, Beth Moore, N.T. Wright, Duane Miller, and Richard Foster.

Clips from Howard's writings:
- If we take a closer look at Hannah's vow, we discover that it is distinctive. Most vows promise something like this, "If you do so-and-so, then I'll do such-and-such." But Hannah promises, "If you give me such-and-such, then I'll give you back such-and-such." [I fail to see the difference that Howard is referring to here. The two look the same to me.]
- A few months ago I had some rare deep thoughts. Why even bother to pray? Prayer doesn't make any ultimate difference in the outcome. However, thanks to all of you I have had to eat the words of this sentence and confess my lack of faith. [Howard has finished seminary at DTS but he still has such a faulty view of prayer and God]
- I know I was angry, frustrated, discouraged, disappointed and hurt. Where was God?
Why had God abandoned us?
- "Here are the 10 big reasons we made it through 8 rounds of chemo: Health insurance, chemo, prayer and the Bible." [Somehow Howard left God off the list? I'm pretty sure the Bible doesn't grant prayers.]
- This year's Top 10 list is similar to last Thanksgiving's list: Family and friends, chemo, prayer, the Bible, Cancer and Life. [Again, notice no God on the list?]
- "My prayer became, "Oh God. Don't you dare let Ann die before Paul (their son) gets here." [Notice again Howard's hostility towards God?]
- After Ann's death, Howard writes: "Ann, you always hated injustice. You hated the fact that incurable cancer had invaded our lives. You hated the fact that cancer might rob you of this priviledge." [What Howard is really saying is that "God is injust for allowing Ann to go through cancer and die. But this is untrue. God is always just. Howard doesn't understand the God of the Bible.]
- "Ann was robbed of growing old with me." [Howard is blaming God for "robbing" Ann and him]
- Just like his father, Howard and Ann's son Paul writes: "I did not understand how God could let her die. What had my mom done? What had my two little brothers and my sister done to deserve having to walk through the rest of their childhood without their mom? And with all the evil things happening in the world, how can God still be good? How can we trust him? [The end]" [Wow. I am deeply saddened for their son Paul. I have added this family to my prayer list, that God might direct them to come to know Him as He truly is - magnificent, all powerful, all loving, and completely just in every way. Please add them to your prayer list as well.]

Howard did mention author John Piper in his book in passing but it is clear that Howard didn't read or listen to enough of John Piper's sermons to get a correct view of God. I encourage everyone to learn about the loving, powerful, fully sovereign God of the Bible. Two of the most AMAZING teachings you will ever hear on suffering are these two sermon from John Piper, explaining God and suffering: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-was-this-child-born-blind and http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-works-of-god-and-the-worship-of-jesus

My disclaimer - I received this book from the publisher but I am not required to give a positive review. I always give brutally honest reviews and attempt to critically point out parts of the book that may not agree with the Bible and so not appeal to others. I want you readers to be able to confidently choose a book based on the stars I give it, because I know you have limited money, time and energy to read. So let's make the most of our lives and discern and choose the very best books wisely.


1 Star: The Barbarian Way by Erwin Raphael McManus

The goal of this book is worthy: McManus attempts to encourage believers not to limit their Christian lives to living in a safe, comfortable, selfish, superficial, self-righteousness and legalistic life. Mark Batterson's book Primal was a successful, well-written book that provided readers with a biblically accurate view on this subject. Sadly, The Barbarian Way leans closer to the unbiblical teachings of John Eldredges' Wild at Heart book in that in their attempt to sell a concept and capitalize off a catchy book title, both authors end up taking the concept too far, stretching the Bible to say what it does not say and in the end, turning Jesus and his followers into wild men and a barbarians.

It seems that the title "Barbarian" was so important to McManus that he overemphasizes this one word and ends up taking the concept of "getting back to the roots of real Christianity" and turns following Christ into a beastly, macho, wild, crazy religion that scoffs at anything resembling "civilized." McManus takes it too far when he continuously puts down "a normal life" as "predictable, boring, mundane" and pushes Christians to live "an adventurous, dangerous, risky, crazy life" as a barbarian. The book seems to promote thrill-seeking and self-glorification through risk-taking, as McManus encourages rushing into life decisions based on feelings and emotions and the sense that "God is speaking to you". He gives one example of what "living like a barbarian should look like" when he told a room full of men during a meeting "Don't go around the world and make our missionaries mentally healthy. You'll ruin everything. You'll totally mess up the cause. Let's say you have a husband and wife and four kids in an obscure city in Central Asia and suddenly they find themselves in the middle of 2 million people who don't speak a word of English. And each morning, they'll wake up excited and confident that somehow they're going to bring that entire city to faith in Jesus Christ. You go and make them normal, and they'll be on a plane back home the next day." (Pg 81)

Some quotes for thought:
  • When asked if they are Christians, [barbarians'] answer might surprisingly be no, they are passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
  • When Christianity becomes just another religion, it focuses on what God requires. Just to keep people in line, we build our own Christian civilization and then demand that everyone who believes in Jesus becaome a good citizen. It's hard to imagine that Jesus would endure the agony of the Cross just to keep us in line. Jesus began a revolution to secure our freedom. We would delight in God, and He would give us the desires of our hearts. Without hearts burning for God, we would move forward with the freedom to pursue the passions burning within us. (Pg 6-7)
  • My daughter had a dream to give to others but I didn't see it initially, but I was trying to civilize her instead of unleashing the untamed faith within her. After all, I'm her dad. It's okay if I live a life of irrational faith and breathtaking adventure. I want something different for her. I want her to have security and safety - you know, a predictable, boring, mundane life. (pg 10-11)
  • Perhaps the tragedy of our time is that such an overwhelming number of us who declare Jesus as Lord have become domesticated - or, if you will, civilized. Maybe John was alluding to that in the Apocalypse when he told the church of Ephesus that they had lost their first love (Rev 2:1-4). (Pg 12). [McManus' concept of John's Revelation alluding to the church of Ephasus becoming "domesticated" seems to stretch the natural reading of the scriptures far out of context.]
  • Those who are most religious will be most offended and indignant. The way of Jesus is far too savage for their sensibilities. (Pg 15)
  • It is time to hear the barbarian call, to form the barbarian tribe, and to unleash the barbarian revolt. (Pg 17)
  • John the Baptist was a true barbarian with camel's hair clothes. John stands out with his unusual dress and no formal education, and his mailing address was the wilderness.
  • Pg 55: You will hear the voice of Christ and His barbarian call if you listen carefully enough.
  • Pg 77: Later I would go on to seminary and learn that God doesn't speak like this anymore. Essentially I was told that God exchanged the mystical and miraculous for doctrine and ritual. The Scriptures became proof that God had stopped speaking. But I had already experienced God in both the mystical and miraculous.
  • Pg 84: My son asked about the voice of God. He would often hear me talk about having conversations with God (most of us call this prayer), and it piqued his curiosity. On top of that, he heard me teach and share mystical and miraculous experiences with God. When he asked me, "What does God's voice sound like?" I guess when I think about it, God's voice sounds a lot like my voice. After all, the Spirit speaks to us through the conscience as well as through the Scriptures.
  • Pg 88-89: My son, Aaron got in a fight with another boy who called his mother names and refused to apologize. I told my son if he didn't obey God's command to apologize and rejected the voice of God and chose to disobey His guidance, [that Aaron's] heart would become hardened, and his ears would become dull. And if he continued on this path, there would be a day when he would never again hear the voice of God. There would come a day when he would deny that God even speaks or has ever spoken to him. But if he treasured God's voice and responded to Him with obedience, then his heart would be softened, and his ears would always be able to hear the whisper of God into his soul. Aaron chose to stay, I'm grateful to say. If he had chosen differently, he would have begun the path toward domestication. Perhaps he never would have rejected the faith overtly. He might have even chosen to be a faithful attender at a church and been by everyone else's estimation a good man, but he would no longer be a barbarian. [Wow. I thought this was very harsh and fear-driven. Not to mention it sounds like teaching that one can lose their salvation, which disagrees with Romans 8:38.]

2 Stars: Raising Your Kids To Love The Lord

Readers will absolutely love the quick easy flow of this book and the many bits of helpful parenting tips that fill its pages. I loved this book for all of its practical advice (that actually works!) for raising mindful, obedient and well-mannered children. Many might even agree that the most fitting title of this book would be "How To Raise Obedient Kids". There are many pages of what-to-dos and not-to-dos. Here are a few samples:

- "Make sure you are the same person in church as you are at home. If you lose your integrity, purity and faithfulness in different circumstances, your children will know."
- "Your children need to see you living what you believe."

This book has almost all the right outward steps for raising obedient children... but sadly it is void of the most important advice "for raising kids to love the Lord". What is sadly missing from this book is that we must teach our children the means to "loving the Lord" via the gospel. From cover to cover, the gospel (which is the power to save our children) is completely adsent from this book. The word "gospel" is literally mentioned only once in the entire book and it was used in the context of someone preaching the gospel in China.

This book is an excellent parenting tip book, but Christianity is not only about obeying the rules. This book fails to encourage parents to teach their children the gospel and to raise their children with "love for God". If all children have are rules and strict obedience, they will learn to fear God, dread God, and hate this strict judge of a god. Grace is absent from a life of pure strict obedience. It has been proven that legalistic Christianity drives children away from God, not towards him. I've heard the odds of children raised in legalistic Christian homes rejecting Christianity in their teen and college years are astronomical. No one can be "good enough" to "make it to heaven" so our obedient kids just give up. We need to teach our children the gospel, not just the law! So when they do try and fail, they know that Christ still loves them! (And know that I am not preaching "easy love" here or "freedom to sin".)

Instead of this book, I recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick's book "Give Them Grace" about raising gospel-centered children without forgetting obedience but also not forgetting the gospel of God's grace and God's love. I also recommend parents listen to sermons from John Piper, who teaches grace, love and obedience in the right relationship and shows us all how to love God and see God for the beauty to be had in Him! We are not only to have joy in God's blessings but in Christ Himself! Our children must learn to love God and they will be watching their parents to see if their parents love God. Teach your children obedience but don't forget to also teach them the gospel of God's grace and to also show them grace every once in a while.

My disclaimer - I received this book from the publisher but I am not required to give a positive review. I always give brutally honest reviews and attempt to critically point out parts of the book that may not agree with the Bible and so not appeal to others. I want you readers to be able to confidently choose a book based on the stars I give it, because I know you have limited money, time and energy to read. So let's make the most of our lives and discern and choose the very best books wisely.