Tag Archives: book review

Holy Hunger

Holy Hunger, by Margaret Bulitt-Jonas

This memoir beautifully and shockingly guides the reader through the authors struggle with overeating, and finding some measure of health and peace in community and trust.

I particularly enjoyed chapters 3 and 4, “Body Language,” and, “Putting Down the Duck,” where she describes her struggle most intently.  Other chapters deal more with her family history and struggle with other relationships.  This is probably more helpful to some, but not as much to me.

A wonderful writer, let me give you a taste of some of my favorite parts:

It wasn’t that I wanted too much, but that I wanted disparate things.  What did I really want?  I didn’t know.  I wanted everything.  I wanted opposite things.  If you’d offered me a questionnaire designed to prove what I was longing for, I’d have marked a yes in every box. [page 67]

Addiction divides the self.  The mind becomes a tyrant and the body becomes its prisoner, the target of its assault.  it’s not the body that wants another handful of peanuts or an extra slice of bread.  The body watches in wonder and sorrow.  What can it do?  All the signals of bodily satisfaction have been sent to the brain.  The stomach is pleasantly full.  The belly already presses firmly against the belt.  All is well in the body.  There is food enough.  Hunger is gone.

But an anxious greedy craving still prowls restlessly in the mind.  Addiction has its own voice.  To the body it says, “I don’t care what you tell me.  I don’t care what you want.  I’m going to keep on eating.  I want those extra bites.  I can override you.  Your voice doesn’t count.  You can’t stop me.  I’m in charge.” [p.70]

Godly Man’s Picture

The Godly Man’s Picture, by Thomas Watson, 1622

Summary:  After a brief introduction, Watson spends most of the book describing 26 characteristics of the godly before finishing with a few small chapters with practical advice on how to grow in godliness. Some chaA1u7xdFjQcLracteristics are given a great deal of attention and others very little. Throughout, Watson uses many word pictures (see “Best Quote” below as example), and emphasizes right doctrine, passionate affections and vigilant obedience in each of the characteristics. For example, when talking about zeal (starting on page 112), he begins by distinguishing true and false zeal. True zeal is characterized by proper knowledge and leads to dutiful obedience. Watson is particularly helpful in describing the love for God’s Word.

Critique: There seems to be little sense in the arrangement of the topics, and each topic stands by itself, without needing help from the others. In this sense, Picture may be used as a kind of reference tool or compendium to see what Watson says on a particular topic. If used this way, it can certainly be quite helpful.

Several of the topics are too long, such as 21, “A godly man does spiritual things in a spiritual manner,” and others are too short, such as 5, “A godly man is very exact and careful about the worship of God.” This judgment may well come from the difference in cultural situation.

Watson’s use of illustrations and word pictures masterfully bring the concepts alive. Overall, this is a volume well worth consulting over and over.

Application: I think I nearly wore out my highlighter on this book. There are so many various places where little illustrations and applications have stuck in my mind, or at least, I want them to do so. This book will be quite useful in the future, especially on the various topics. I used 9, “A godly man is a lover of the Word,” this week in preparing a sermon, to, I trust, great affect.

Further, Watson has challenged me personally, in two ways. First, and more importantly, he has challenged me to be more godly myself. Several of the topics were quite convicting and convincing. Second, he has challenged me to be more holistic in my ministry. That is, Watson sets a great example of truth, passion and exhortation all together. The light and heat of the gospel radiate from this book (I can only imagine meeting Watson personally), and that encourages me to follow his example in my preaching, teaching, counseling and other ministries.

Best Quote: How many knowledgeable persons are ignorant? Their knowledge has no powerful influence upon them to make them better . . . Absalom might boast of the hair of his head, but that hanged him; so these may boast of the knowledge in their head, but it will destroy them. P.25.

Deep Change

Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, by Robert E. Quinn, Jossey-Bass, 1996

Overview

All of us look inside ourselves (and our organizations) and find ourselves deeply unsatisfied.  At these times, we commonly try to use a “quick fix” when a deeper change is required.  Without such a risky and deep change, we will die slowly.  These changes, however, are very near to our identity, and so they are scary.  Fear of the unknown commonly locks us into the status quo.  Many people deny the need for change when confronted with the deep issues that plague their institution (or them, personally).  Most organizations have a variety of self-reinforcing structures to keep change superficial.  Deep changes require actions so risky that the death of the organization is at stake.  Many organizations resist such risk.  Excellence, though, can never come without risk.  One way an organization may begin to attack deep issues is to “discuss the undiscussable.”  Visionary leaders (who have moved away from mere management) will gain insights from their employees, but will lead the change themselves.

Critique

Quinn’s many stories make this book inspirational as well as informational.  He writes primarily about corporate business.  And though the preface states that he intends the book to be valuable to anyone in any organization, he assumes a knowledge and experience with the business world often.  His principles are generic, which allows a reader to think about their specific situation as they are reading.  However, at times, the generic language may lead some non-business-oriented readers to be confused.  Nonetheless, there are many good insights and helpful principles overall.  The book excels and good stories and the overall point of the necessity of risking deep change for the health of organizations.

“The fact that we have enough trust and belief in ourselves to pursue our vision is what signals to others that the vision is worth investing in.  Our message is filled with integrity ad good intentions.  However, it is usually our actions, not our words, that send the message.”  p.85.

The Critical Journey

The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A Gelich

 

Overview

The spiritual life of faith is a journey which can be seen in 6 (or 7) stages.  Each comes after the other, and it may take many years to move through one particular stage.  Typically, a person has a “home” stage at any given time in his life.  However, he may revert back to previous stages for a short time depending on circumstances.  In the first stage, “The Recognition of God,” new Christians must deal with a sense of God’s enormity and their own frailty and finitude.  When a person then becomes part of a community, he enters “The Life of Discipleship” where he is open to learning about God, doctrine, faith and the church.  When a person learns, then, about himself and his gifts, he is ready to enter stage three, “The Productive Life.”  Here, a person is quite involved in serving the community through is unique gifting.  This, however, tends to lead to burnout and a crisis of faith.  Then, the person enters “The Journey Inward” where one seeks authentic relationship of intimacy with God.  “The Wall” describes the increased intensity of this struggle.  For those who find such intimacy, “The Journey Outward” allows a person to serve others vocationally with a more relaxed posture, confident in God’s grace.  Finally, “The Life of Love” is an adventurous time of surrender to God’s grace, and a willingness to serve him with very little self-awareness.

 

Critique

What a terrific paradigm!  I found myself seeing all kinds of patterns in the journeys I have witnessed in others.  This book will allow the reader to understand how people who are in different places in the journey value different things in their spiritual life.  Some strongly desire small community groups, while others see little need for them.  Some strongly desire deep theologically-driven sermons while others prefer soothing, comforting sermons.  They are in different places on the journey.  This little paradigm is helpfully explained, and the stages are compared and contrasted in helpful ways to make it easy to learn and digest.

 

“Because [ordained clergy] are deemed close to God, we feel God should respond to our requests.  Substituting our own will for God’s has become our weakness.  How painful for us to realize that we, the leaders of the flock, also have to go through the Wall.”  p.118.

 

Transitions

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, by William Bridges

Overview

Life’s transitions are difficult to navigate.  While everyone’s transitions look different, there are some tell-tale patterns that indicate a transition, and there are guidelines to help make a transition smoother.  In a transition, a person will feel restless, anxious, and will lose interest in regular activities.  Each transition begins with a death of some sort, which must be mourned.  In this time, one must separate himself from something, which can be quite disorienting.  Only then, can one enter into a fallow time of reflection and malleability.  This is where the real work of the transition takes place.  Finally, a new birth brings freshness and a kind of new identity.  All people experience transitions throughout various stages in their lives, even though it is impossible to make any certain set of stages normal.  How we deal with transitions in early life will usually dictate how we deal with other transitions later.  Transitions of all kinds deeply affect interpersonal relationships and can even jeopardize those relationships.  Many people experience transitions in their work life from a kind of apprenticeship to “householding” to some kind of “final chapter.”

 

Critique

The author spends a great deal of time in the myths of the ancient Greek world.  Unless the reader has significant knowledge or great interest in these myths, it will be difficult to understand the (very) extended illustration.  Further, the author weaves a variety of stories from his personal experience with students throughout the book.  These stories are all similar (since they all deal with transitions), and so only a very careful reader will not be confused.  Nonetheless, it is easy to see why this book has sold so many copies.  The information is quite valuable, and his exposition of transitions is easy to understand.  The practical advice is the most valuable part of the book.

 


“First, the process of transformation is essentially a death and rebirth process rather than one of mechanical modification.  Although our own culture knows all about mechanics, it has a great deal to learn from the past about death and rebirth.”  p.140.

 

Renovation of the Heart

Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard.

Overview

Spiritual formation is a process of becoming more like Christ.  This is done in concert with the Holy Spirit.  There are six human dimensions that each need to be moved toward Christ in order for spiritual formation to happen: Thoughts, feelings, will, body, social context and the soul.  An understanding of the radical brokenness and sinfulness of the human condition is required, and it will lead to a great trust and obedience to the commands of God.  Images and ideas are the currency of our thoughts.  We should discipline our thoughts to align them with Christ’s message of grace.  Our feelings give us liveliness, and can be corrected by better thoughts.  Our wills are fractured and need to be focused with spiritual disciplines.  We should not see our bodies as belonging to us, but rather to God, their creator.  Broken societies are fixed first by fixing marriages.  We must acquire vision of what living in God’s kingdom can be like if we are to pursue sanctification by his grace.

 

Critique

This book is not easy to read.  Few illustrations, long sentences and dense ideas are typical of Willard’s writing style.  Nonetheless, for those willing to put in the effort, much gold lies in those mines.  Willard offers a terrific look at the various elements necessary in sanctification.  It is not a mystery, as he says, and he pulls back the curtain on what has seemed, at times, to be confusing.  He is pithy, helpful and insightful.  He is strong on theory, and does attempt to address practicality (save for a few paragraphs here and there).  This can be frustrating for a Christian leader asking the question, “What does this look like in a local church, or in the life of an individual?”

“To serve God well we must think straight; and crooked thinking, unintentional or not, always favors evil. And when the crooked thinking gets elevated into group orthodoxy, whether religious or secular, there is always, quite literally, “hell to pay.” That is, hell will take its portion, as it has repeatedly done in the horrors of world history.” p.106.

 

Now, Discover Your Strengths

Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.

Overview

Based on over 2,000,000 interviews, research suggests that a person’s strengths are the key to unlocking their potential impact in the world and on an organization, particularly.  Many examples illustrate that a strength is “consistent near perfect performance in any activity.”  Talents are natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.  These cannot be learned, but they are essential parts of a person’s strengths.  People can learn specific knowledge and improve particular skills that will enhance their talents to become strengths.  A person ought to work in and on their strengths rather than on their weakness, contrary to popular practice, because this is how we can best make an effective contribution to the world.  Thirty four themes rise from the research in which people may have strengths, and each is described in detail.  Organizations which want to improve performance should allow each employee to discover, improve and work according to the theme(s) that characterize their strengths.  Management of people which each of the themes is unique and is discussed.  Organizations may be able to drop the “Peter Principle” by hiring people with the right strengths, keeping people in a role that fits their strength, and giving incentives for people to get better at their strengths.

 

Critique

This book is easy to read, and is best used as a resource or reference book.  The research is thorough and well presented.  This book is a good introduction to a system which seems much larger than what this book handles.  I would like to see how this system would match against the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment or the DISC personality system, both of which are quite intriguing to me.  Managers and other leaders will be able to effectively use the resources in this book to hire the right people and put those people in the right positions on the team.

“When we studied them, excellent performers were rarely well rounded.  On the contrary, they were sharp.”  p. 26.