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.
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.
This week we’re looking at the phenomenal final book from an author whose death shocked an entire subculture two and a half years ago. This week we’re looking at Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu.
A Return, But With Growth. This is one of the harder reviews I’ve ever written. Not because the book wasn’t amazing – this was easily Evans’ strongest book since Searching for Sunday, and thus the book that I’d always hoped she would be able to write again. But because of how it came about, and, perhaps, how it came to be in such strong form. Evans’ sudden illness and then death in the Spring of 2019 shocked any who had ever heard of her, and in fact on the day of her funeral I read Faith Unraveled as my own private funeral for this woman that had given voice to so many of my own thoughts in Searching For Sunday, thus gaining a fan, and yet who in subsequent books had strayed so far afield that even as a member of her “street team” for the last book she published before her death, Inspired, I couldn’t give it the glowing review expected of such members, and so felt I had to leave the group. This was something I actually discussed with both Evans and the PA that was leading the team, and neither one of them in any way suggested it – yet my own honor had demanded it.
With this book, finished from an unfinished manuscript by her friend Jeff Chu and clearly still in the research and pondering phases when Evans was suddenly cut from this reality, the commitments to her progressive ideals that ultimately derailed so much of Inspired still shine through, but the more humble, the more questioning nature of Searching For Sunday form much more of the substance of the book. Thus, for me, this book is truly both the best and the fullest representation of the Evans that I knew only through reading her books and occasionally speaking with her as a member of that street team. I’ve never read anything from Chu, so I don’t know his voice as an author, but there is truly nothing here that doesn’t sound as though Held herself wrote it – which actually speaks to just how much care Chu put into his own contributions, as there is truly no way to pull such seamlessness off without intense concentration and care.
I was tortured in writing my review of Inspired because Evans *was* someone I looked up to after Searching For Sunday. She was a contemporary, along with Jonathan Merritt, who grew up in a similar region and culture as I did and thus with whom I was able to identify so many similar experiences in similar times and places. (To be clear, if any of the three of us were ever in the same place – even the same evangelical Christian teen megaconference – at the same time growing up, I never knew of it.) And I am tortured now both because I of what I had to write in that review to maintain my sought-after as-close-to-objective-as-I-can-be standard of reviewing and because of what this particular book means in the face of her death over two years ago. But I do find solace in that even knowing all of this is going on in my head writing this review, there was truly nothing here that I could and would normally strike as objectively bad. There weren’t any claims of an absolute here – this went back to the more questioning and searching nature of Searching For Sunday rather than the more near-polemic nature of Inspired. There wasn’t even any real proof texting going on here – which is particularly great since it was Evans herself (along with some others) who actually started that particular war I wage every time I see the practice in a book. The writing was as beautiful as anything Evans has ever produced, and while the bibliography in this Advanced Review Copy was a bit scant at just 9% of the text, this also was a much more memoir-based book (yet again: more in the vein of Searching For Sunday) and thus scant bibliography is easily explained by specific genre.
And thus I feel that the 5* rating is objectively warranted, at least by my own standards, even as I fully understand that it could come across to some as any level of death-bias.
If this is truly the last book that will ever bear Rachel Held Evans’ name, I personally couldn’t have asked for a better one to be her finale. This is truly going out as strong as she possibly could, and thus it is absolutely very much recommended.
Too Much Faith, Not Enough Doubt. I’ve read McLaren for a few years and knew him to be of the more “progressive Christian” bent, so I knew what I was getting myself in for in picking up this book. But as always, he does have at least a few good points in here, making the book absolutely worthy of reading and contemplating. However, he also proof texts a fair amount, and any at all of this particular sin is enough for me to dock *any* book that utilizes the practice a star in my own personal war with the practice. (Though I *do* note that he isn’t as bad as other writers in this.) The other star removal comes from the title of this review, which is really my core criticism here. As is so often in his previous books as well as so many other authors, McLaren has good points about the need for doubt and how to live in harmony… but then insists on praising cult figures on both sides of the aisle such as Greta Thurnberg and David Grossman. In encouraging evaneglicals to doubt their beliefs, he seems rather sure of his own beliefs in the religions of science and government – seemingly more comfortable worshipping these religions than the Christ he claims. Overall, much of the discussion here truly is strong. It simply needed to be applied in far more areas than McLaren was… comfortable… in doing. Recommended.
This review of Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren was originally written on January 17, 2021.