#BookReview: When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes

Elite Sociology Types Explain Homelessness. In a spirit of full disclosure up front, I’m a guy that literally has “Real Is Real” – the subheading of Part III of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged – tattooed on his wrist, along with a few other tattoos of various Christian thinking, both common (Triune God) and more obscure (Christ’s death redefines religious laws). And yet I’ve also presented at a sociological association’s conference, over 20 years ago while still in college. With that noted, let’s get into my thoughts on this book, shall we? ๐Ÿ™‚

Coming into this review moments after reading this book, I wasn’t going to rate it 5*. There is quite a bit of rampant elitism and racism here, from forgetting just how horrid public housing has proven to be to openly advocating for several explicitly racist programs such as Affirmative Action and reparations. And yet, while admittedly deep into the text… the authors own up to their racism and elitism, unlike so many other books in this space. So there went that potential star deduction. And I was thinking that the book was only about 16% documentation, and it actually ended with about 18%. While still *slightly* lower than the more normal 20-30% I’m accustomed to seeing in these types of books, even I have noted in at least one or two reviews over the last few weeks that given how many more recent books are coming in somewhere in the teens, I may need to revise my expected average downward a few points – which would put this 18% within that newly revised range, almost assuredly. Thus, there went that potential star deduction.

So what I’m left with is an idealistic book that bounces between firmly grounded in reality in showing the full breadth and scope of how so many people come to a state of homlessness and how and why so many programs built to “combat” or “end” homelessness fail and even actively harm the people they claim to he trying to help to being truly pie in the sky, never going to happen “solutions” such as Universal Basic Income. And yet, here again, some of the solutions proposed – such as tiny house villages and container box conversion homes – are ideas that I myself have even proposed.

Admittedly, I chose to read this book this week because of the ongoing struggles in Gastonia, NC, where the City Council is currently threatening to entirely shut down a local church because of its efforts to serve the local homeless population, efforts brought to media attention by the efforts of Libertarian activist (and rumored potential 2024 Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party) Spike Cohen. Unfortunately, I’ve seen myself over years of even casually watching the issue that the current events in Gastonia are simply far too common – which is one of the things this text gets quite right in covering while never really going in depth with any specifics. Even down to also addressing, again at a high level, the all too common practice of hostile design.

At the end of the day, there are very clear differences in how the authors here and I approach this (and likely many) issue, and I suspect that will be true of many who read this book as well. But if you’re interested in the issue of homelessness at all, if you’re truly interested in trying to help end this problem, if you’re searching for something you can personally do to help, if you’re looking for ideas to work at any level to assist… you should read this book. It really is quite a solid primer, despite the authors’ clear bents, and at minimum it will help you avoid pitfalls that are far too common even among those with quite a bit of experience working within these communities. Very much recommended.

This review of When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes was originally written on June 23, 2023.

#BookReview: Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore

Welcome Back, Dr. Moore! For roughly a decade now, the once-phenomenal Dr. Russell Moore has been either a shill for SBC Leadership in his role as head of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission or embroiled in controversy over his rabid anti-Trumpism. Here, while not *completely* stepping back from either position, Moore does an excellent job of calling American Churchianity – not just the SBC, but *all* of American Churchianity – back to a focus on Christ, Him Crucified, and Spreading the Gospel. Full of Southern aphorisms that even this native Son of the South rarely heard in the exurbs of Atlanta, despite being barely a decade younger than Moore, this text also shows just how knowledgeable and insightful Moore at his best can show himself to be. And yes, while allowing that he is still wrong on a few positions (which I’m sure he and others would disagree with me over), this really is a return to the best of Moore, the Moore that made me at first *excited* that he was taking over the ERLC.

Indeed, the only reasons for the two star deductions are simple: the dearth of a bibliography – less than 10%! – when 20-30% is more normal, and even at least 20% is more normal *within this specific genre*, and the frequent use of “prooftexting”, the practice of citing Bible verses outside of their context as “proof” of some point or another, which is a rampant problem in this genre in particular.

Still, if you’re a Christian in America today… you need to read this book. If you’re just interested in studying the decline of Christianity in America today and what could be done about it… you need to read this book. And if you’re actively anti anything remotely Christian… maybe skip this one. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Still, that means that several million Americans… need to read this book. Very much recommended.

This review of Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore was originally written on June 18, 2023.

#BookReview: The Ballot And The Bible by Kaitlyn Schiess

No Matter What You Think About The Bible In American Politics – You’re Wrong. This is one of the better books I’ve ever come across in showing just how the Bible has been debated throughout American history, from its earliest days through Trump, January 6, and even into how Biden is currently using it. And it does a phenomenal job of showing just what I said in the title here – no matter what you think you know about the Bible in American politics, no matter what you personally think about how it has been applied and should currently be applied… you’re wrong. While having perhaps a slight tinge of anti-whiteness here (in that the most heavy criticism tends to land squarely on the actions of white people), Schiess really does do quite a remarkable – and remarkably even – job of showing that no one is truly “evil” or even “uneducated” about the Bible (well, specific people in specific circumstances may be), they simply have different methods of understanding and interpreting it which lead to divergent conclusions based on both the text *and those extra-text methods*. And the sides have flipped and flopped throughout even somewhat recent American history such that neither can go more than a few decades without having to explain some prior interpretation from “their” side away.

The documentation here comes in at a slightly low yet still respectable 21%, and while Bible verses are cited throughout the text, there is no actual “prooftexting” here – verses are cited not to prove a point, but to cite which elements of which passages different groups were interpreting different ways at different points in American history.

Indeed, perhaps the only real valid complaint here is that I’m fairly certain this book could be a few times is barely 200 pages… and *still* not cover the topic in true depth. And yet, the depth it does manage to pull off in these pages is still quite remarkable indeed. Very much recommended.

This review of The Ballot And The Bible by Kaitlyn Schiess was originally written on April 21, 2023.

#BookReview: What Jesus Intended by Todd D. Hunter

Solid Work Within Its Field. For those already familiar with the arguments presented here – at an extremely high level, essentially that religious leaders rarely know what the hell they are doing and tend to create “bad religion”, but Jesus Himself is “good religion” – this is fairly standard stuff, presented in the fairly typical Christian Living genre format of some essay around a given topic with a few application questions at the end of the chapter. At least as someone well versed in what Mr. Hunter was talking about, there was nothing particularly ground breaking here, but perhaps this is the presentation that will allow some to approach the topic – in which case I’m fairly certain Mr. Hunter and I would agree that it would have been worth it for that reason alone.

The star deduction here is for the rampant proof texting, but it is rare to find a book in this particular genre without this practice.

And the other thing I felt I needed to call out here was the devotion of the final chapter to a particular ministry… where it turns out that its leader is one of Mr. Hunter’s mentors, as he mentions just pages later in the Acknowledgments. This to me felt at least a touch improper, perhaps another similar minstry could have been highlighted there rather than one so closely personal to Mr. Hunter. But this is far from an allegation of actual impropriety, simply something that pings my own ethical philosophy – which I never hold anyone else to.

Overall a solid work in its field, and one worth considering even if you *are* familiar with the general arguments. Very much recommended.

This review of What Jesus Intended by Todd D. Hunter was originally written on March 27, 2023.

#BookReview: Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler

Proposing A New View Of Sexual Ethics. This book is remarkably well written and remarkably well balanced, one that no matter your views on any sex or gender related topic, at some point here you’re most likely going to fall into the classic preacher joke of “Woah, woah, woah, preacher! You’re stepping on my toes!” “I apologize, my [brother/ sister] in Christ. I was aiming for your heart.” (and/ or, in this case, the brain as well) ๐Ÿ˜€ In other words, no matter your views on these topics coming into this book, there are more than likely going to be things you’re wholeheartedly agreeing with… and others that are likely going to make you want to throw the book out of the nearest window. For those who have routinely been condemned by existing Christian ethics, know that there is no condemnation here – indeed, Butler spends a fair amount of time examining exactly what Paul was doing in Romans, one of the oft-cited condemnation passages, and explains how it doesn’t really directly apply to sexual issues, but to *all* issues. And yet, at the very same time, Butler does not shy away from the idea that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s perfect design and intention, and explains a new view of exactly why he still holds to this position. Ignoring Frank Viola’s Parable Of Marvin Snurdley, Butler does a truly remarkable and seemingly thorough job of looking at all issues surrounding sex and gender and shows that traditional views are the closest to being correct… though not always the closest in actual reasoning or in explaining *why* they are correct, which is something he seeks to change here. Oh, and those who have read Ted Dekker’s Circle Series are likely to notice some similar language. Indeed, while it is unknown to me if Butler had ever read this particular (somewhat famous in Christian circles) series, Butler here truly elevates and grounds some of the concepts Dekker explores particularly early in that series.

The single star deduction is for prooftexting, which while not *as* prevalent here and while Butler *mostly* explains the full contexts of the passages he spends extended time with (such as the creation account in Genesis and the aforementioned passage of Romans, among a few others), he *does* still engage in citing Biblical verses out of context at times in “support” of some point or another, and I am on a one-man-war to eradicate this practice everywhere I see it. In book reviews, my only weapon is the single star deduction, and thus I apply it in all cases where I notice the problem.

Ultimately this is a book that will prove highly controversial, and yet it is also a book that truly everyone, particularly those who consider themselves “thinkers” or “educated” or “learned” or some such, will need to at least read and consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Don’t Hold Back by David Platt

Far From Radical. This is a book that should be widely read because it does have some interesting and important things to say – and yet it was also far from a radical adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ that the description would lead one to believe. Even among the first three chapters, Chapter 2 openly counters the claims and arguments of Chapters 1 and 3, with Chapter 2 being a hyper-progressive/ leftist screed one would hardly expect from someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and whose arguments are never actually found in the words or actions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The ubiquitous-but-heavier-later defense of the American government and American military is, again, far from radical and completely unBiblical, but will feed right into those very conservative SBC churches Platt has long been associated with. Thus showing that Platt doesn’t mind crossing current political boundaries – and yet, again, Platt never in this text does the truly radical thing of embracing a full-throated embrace of YAHWEH as declared in 1 Samuel 8 (which would require a full rejection of all earthly kings).

But on all of the above, ultimately your mileage will vary and there will be some points you agree with no matter your own political slants and others you disagree with, which is actually (to my own mind at least) the mark of a Christian preacher actually doing his job – because in Christ, there *are* no politics, and the things Christ does speak of and do do *not* align neatly with 21st century American politics.

No, ultimately the two star deductions come from two more basic and more technical errors here:

1) Prooftexting, which is citing Bible verses out of context. Platt is far from alone in this practice – most *every* Christian author does it, and even some non-Christian ones – and yet it is *wrong* on so many levels. Thus, I wage a one-man war against the practice any time I encounter it, and the only “weapon” I have in that war as a book reviewer is a star deduction.

2) Lack of Bibliography. Coming in at barely 15% of the overall text here, this is lighter than the 20-30% that is more typical in my experience, and far from the particularly-well-documented level of near 50%. For the amount of non-Biblical claims Platt makes and in particular how controversial at least some of them can be, there really needs to be *far* better documentation of them.

Ultimately this *is* a book that will challenge you to some degree or another virtually no matter what your thinking is on religion and/ or politics, and that alone makes it a worthy read for everyone. Very much recommended.

This review of Don’t Hold Back by David Platt was originally written on October 29, 2022.

#BookReview: I Believe by Thom S Rainer

Solid (Within Author’s Worldview) Short Guide To Fundamentals Of Christian Faith. This book really does do what it sets out to do – lay out what Christians generally believe and at least some reasoning as to why they believe it. It doesn’t get too heavily into the things that split off the various sects and denominations such as baptism or saints, and even when it touches on End Times discussions, it lays out the basic thinking of each of the different ways of thinking about the topic. And it does it in a fairly concise manner, covering a wide range of topics with fairly short chapters and clocking in as a whole at less than 200 pages – which is truly remarkable given its full breadth of discussion. More extreme liberal Christians may have more issues with the points here, as Rainer explicitly has a chapter about God the *Father*, and a few other quibbles here or there based on that thinking – which Rainer, given his more conservative Baptist background, doesn’t dive into so much. Other potential attacks from Christians could include Rainer’s focus on the Bible as the “Word of God”, despite John 1:1 being quite clear that *Jesus Christ* is the “Word of God”, not the Bible, and Rainer’s frequent references to the Pauline epistles as defense of some of his claims – which anyone familiar with the Parable of Marvin Snurdley (from Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity) – will likely question.

All of the above noted, the sole reason for the sole star deduction here is the frequent- beginning seemingly literally on Page 1 – use of “proof texting” – citing a Bible verse out of context in defense of some claim or another. I have been quite adamant in waging a one-man war against the practice, and the single star deduction is really the only “weapon” I have with which to wage my war. Thus, I apply it any time a book uses the practice.

Ultimately though, this truly is a solid view of the fundamentals of Christianity, given the caveats of the author’s own worldview, and is truly a solid resource for anyone seeking to understand the basic tenets of the general faith for any reason. Very much recommended.

This review of I Believe by Thom S Rainer was originally written on October 8, 2022.

#BookReview: Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana

Mostly Solid Examination – If From A Single Worldview. This is one of those examinations of an issue where the examination seems mostly solid, but is also clear that it is from a particular worldview – and the reader’s own feelings about that worldview will likely determine how much the reader enjoys or agrees with the author’s reasonings and recommendations. Specifically, Smeitana’s ultimate point is that older white churches are out, and younger multi-ethnic churches are in. Mostly using a more case study approach with a few more general facts thrown in (and with a scant bibliography of just about 12% of the text, rather than the 25-33% or so that is more typical of more scholarly based examinations in my experience), this book tells the tale of where the American Church finds itself now, what Smietana thinks got it here, and how he believes it can adapt into the future. And again, all of this seems objectively pretty reasonable, and how you view his particular slant will likely determine whether you agree more or less with it.

Ultimately the two stars deducted here – while I considered a third star deduction for the scant bibliography, I ultimately leaned against it due to the power of the case studies and clear direct investigations – were for proof texting and for large discussions of COVID. The proof texting was a complete brain fart, as he really only does it twice (vs other “Christian Living” books doing it *far* more often), but it is an automatic star deduction *every* time I see it, in my own personal war against the practice. The discussions of COVID largely couldn’t be avoided for anyone writing a book about where the American Church is in 2022, with the COVID disruptions of the past couple of years shifting the landscape in this arena at least as much as within any other, and objectively I can acknowledge this. However, *I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID*. Period. And therefore I wage a one man war against any and every book that mentions it as well.

Ultimately this is a book that I think it is important for anyone interesting in American Christianity and where it is and can go to consider, as there really are a lot of interesting and compelling discussions within it and points to consider, no matter your own religious or political persuasions. For this reason, it is very much recommended.

This review of Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana was originally written on August 31, 2022.

#BookReview: A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Interesting Mix Of Rachel Held Evans And Max Lucado. This book is perfect for fans of the late Rachel Held Evans who miss her type of voice and are looking for someone who can write in that type of mindset. Better, for those who disagreed with Evans’ more liberal positions, is that Wilbert doesn’t expose any of those here. Instead, Wilbert writes in a more inviting style very similar to Max Lucado’s, making her points but also asking the reader to consider a lot of questions and their own answers to them. And yet Wilbert retains the essence of the questioning faith and openness that brought so many of us to Evans. She is open about her struggles as someone who was single into her 30s, who then has actively tried to have children only to suffer through several miscarriages and, now in her 40s, begins to realize that one thing she so wanted may not be in the cards for her family. And so, she questions. But she questions with a yearning, with a hope, that – again turning to the Evans reference – was so evident in Searching for Sunday and is what ultimately made this reader such a fan of Evans. Ultimately the only mars on this incredible work were two issues that I am on a one-man crusade to stamp out any time I see them: prooftexting and discussions of COVID. In each case, my only real weapon in this crusade is a one-star deduction, and thus the two stars removed here. But truly, don’t let that deter you from reading this otherwise exceptional book – particularly if you don’t mind either or both of the above issues. Very much recommended.

This review of A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert was originally written on July 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Life Surrendered by Jessica Herberger

Deeper Max Lucado. This book is one whose overall tone and structure fans of Max Lucado – a guy who has been writing books for decades and who is so popular he is on grocery store bookshelves – will easily recognize. But it is also quite a bit deeper than Lucado generally goes, and Herberger here brings up some great points about the various deaths she discusses as she looks at Easter Weekend. Ultimately a truly solid book of its type, but likely without a truly universal appeal. Should do *very* well within the Christian nonfiction market though, where in fact it could be a breakout book – it really is that good. And timed well, with publication roughly 6 weeks before Easter 2022. Very much recommended.

This review of Life Surrendered by Jessica Herberger was originally written on February 26, 2022.