Archive for the ‘Religious Studies’ Category

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism – Carl McColman

Monday, September 20th, 2010



Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1571746242
ISBN-13: 978-1571746245
Order from here:

What is Christian Mysticism? It’s described as an experiential relationship with God, meaning actually experiencing God. Non Mystical religion, according to this book, is most often a behavioral religion, ie. if you behave in this manner, you are doing what’s right. Mysticism on the other hand is having a personal relationship with god, and not always as tied into the behavior or rules.

I thought the book was very interesting in showing Christian Mysticism, and how it relates to other religious Mysticisms such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism within Hinduism. They covered a lot of the more famous Mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Paul. The other included a very good bibliography for further reading, suggested books, and a listing of the more historical mystics.

While I found the book very informative, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t meet what I thought it was going to be. That was actually beginning steps in mysticism. But it did pique my interest enough that I plan to further prusue it as an interest, and learn more about it.

If you are interested in Mysticism, or just want a beginner’s guide, than pick this up. I think you’d find it a good starting place.

*Disclaimer* A special thanks goes out to Bonni at Red Wheel Weiser for a review copy of this book.  It in no way influenced my review.

You can discuss it here or join my facebook page and discuss it there.

The Hole in Our Gospel Richard Stearns

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010



Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 1ST edition (March 10, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0785229183
ISBN-13: 978-0785229186
Order from here:

Richard Stearns was living what a lot of people consider the American Dream. A big House, big salary, a jag for a company car. Then he started getting calls to join World Harvest. He tried to run from it, but everywhere he turned something new would happen to make him think he had to take the job. Finally he gave up everything he’d worked for, and flew his family across the country for a 75% cut in salary to become CEO of World Vision U.S.

This is a must read book, whether you are Christian or not, but particularly if you are Christian. It was at times disturbing, and made me realize that despite what I think, I don’t do enough to help others. That is the premise for this book.

The Bible commands that we help out the least among us. His whole point throughout this, is that people have failed in this assignment. He packs the book with statistics, and heartbreaking stories of his visits to other countries, some overran with AIDs suffering.

He begins by usin the illustration that if you out every sentence in the bible that dealt with how we were to treat the poor, the hungry, the needy, that the bible would be nothing but shreds. There would be so many holes you wouldn’t recognize it, yet that’s what a lot of people do all the time. He admits that he has a tendency to really get excited and help when he first returns from a mission, but then things die off, and he falls back into a rut.

One scenario he imagines is that of two churches. One is a church in Africa that has nothing, but is happy. The other is a church here, that has everything it needs, but the people are too busy with their own lives. The man from the African church is transported here, and sees the church, and is astonished, he thinks he will be able to tell them all the stuff he needs help with but as soon as the service is over, they flock out without ever listening to him.

A Shock TV/Radio jock has recently said The Bible had nothing to say about Social Justice, and others have spoken out about community service, yet this whole book is about Social Justice and serving your community, and how it’s commanded by God. I think regardless of your views, and no matter how much you think you are contributing, you should pick it up and read it. I think you’ll find it very eye opening.

About the Author

Richard Stearns has been president of World Vision U.S. since June 1998. As a spokeperson for World Vision he has appeared on CNN, Fix, ABC, NBC, and PBS.
*Disclaimer* A copy of this book was provided for review purposes through Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze program. It in no way influenced my review.

You can discuss it here or join my facebook page and discuss it there.

The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom “The Essential Teachings” – His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010



Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing (April 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1571746285
ISBN-13: 978-1571746283
Order from here:

There have been some great spiritual leaders in the world. I wasn’t around for Gandhi. Being the son of a Baptist Minister exposed me to Jesus. And the Dalai Lama I discovered on my own. In this book they cover the teachings of the Dalai Lama through various subjects, here are some examples:

  • Contentment: Joy and Living Well – “Humans have the potential not only to create happy lives for themselves, but also to help other beings”.
  • Facing Death and Dying – “I think at the time of death a peaceful mind is essential”.
  • Dealing with Anger and Emotion – Having those who are enemies, or don’t agree with us gives us practice in patience and tolerance.
  • Giving and Receiving – “When people in a big town or city feel lonely, this does not mean that they lack human companions, but rather they lack human affection.
  • Transforming the Mind – Here he discusses how our mental attitude can affect things such as physical health. 
  • Transforming through altruism –  Two aspects to altruism – One is for enlightenment, the other is working for the welfare of others.  One way to do this is to think of strangers as a close friend, family member, etc.
  • Transformation through insight – Recognize all sentient beings as your equal
  • Eight Verses on Transforming the Mind – Here are eight verses that a person can meditate on to help transform the mind.
  • Compassion – The Basis for Human Happiness – “There are a number of qualities which are important for mental peace, but from the little experience I have, I believe that one of the most important factors is human compassion and affection: a sense of caring”.
  • There are many helpful ideas of wisdom.  One thing I appreciate about the Dalai Lama is he doesn’t feel the need to force you to be Buddhist.  He states in this book and others that you should take what helps you or works for you, leave what doesn’t.  I think if we were able to do this with all religions, a lot of the problems we face globally might begin to disappear.  I feel that a person can be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, but still learn from the leaders of other religions.  I know the Dalai Lama’s teachings speak to me at times, particularly times of great stress.

    This book is a small, thick book.  It’s pretty quick to read with very short paragraphs.  If you are going through rough patches in your life, or know someone who might be, then check this book out, it might provide a little bit of wisdom that will help.

    *Disclaimer* A review copy of this book was provided by Bonni and Rosemary at Redwheel Weiser.  Thanks go to them for this book.  It didn’t affect my review in any way.

    You can discuss it here or join my facebook page and discuss it there.

    The Gospel According to Lost – Chris Seay

    Tuesday, January 26th, 2010



    Paperback: 224 pages
    Publisher: Thomas Nelson (December 29, 2009)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0849920728
    ISBN-13: 978-0849920721
    Order from here:

    Lost. I’ve been hooked on this show since the first episode and seeing Oceanic Flight 815 crash. Chris Seay is a pastor and President of the Ecclesia Bible Society. In this book he takes a look at many of the major characters and how they compare/contrast to the Gospels of the Bible.

    He goes through characters such as Kate, Sawyer, Locke, and Jack. He also covers the flip side with Linus, Jacob, and some of the other Others.

    He makes the comparison that like many in our society, those on Lost are divided. To back up this comparison he uses the characters of John Locke (A man of faith) versus that of Jack Shepherd (A Man of Science).

    The people of lost are all running from, in various ways, sinful pasts. You have a false priest, drug addict, murderer, con man. But all of these damaged souls are the types of people that Christ constantly surrounded himself with.

    I liked the book. I liked how he put a spin on the characters, something I’ve seen myself coming for a while, especially with the events of last season. If you’re a big fan of Lost, and want a bit of a spiritual insight into the storyline pick this up. It’s not perfect, there are times where the author goes into the character, and never truly draws a biblical comparison. There are other times though, where he draws some very vivid comparisons. It’s a fast book to read, and Pastor Seay definitely has put a lot of thought into lost. So check this book out, I think you’ll like it. If yo haven’t watched Lost though, you might want to watch all the seasons first, before reading this book, since there are what could be considered spoilers.

    *DISCLAIMER* A review copy of this book was provided to me by Booksneeze.   This in no way influenced my review.

    You can discuss it here

    A Christmas Carol: Special Edition – Charles Dickens/Stephen Shelton

    Monday, December 14th, 2009


     A Christmas Carol

    Paperback: 128 pages
    Publisher: Standard Publishing (September 1, 2009)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0784723915
    ISBN-13: 978-0784723913 
    Order from here:


    The story is very familiar. Ebenezer Scrooge is a hateful old man. One Christmas eve, he’s visited by 3 spirits. These spirits show him what his life was, is, and will be. The goal is redemption. But will Scrooge repent of his vileness. Only time and Mr. Dickens will tell. This was the first time I’ve actually read this book, though I have seen numerous versions of it every year.

    The language is what you would expect from the Era it’s written in. Some words phrases I didn’t find myself very familiar with. Luckily, this edition had notes for some areas for example “comforter”. To us, at least in the U.S. a comforter is similar to a blanket. However, in this time period, it referred to a scarf. The story is divided into 5 staves. I found out that a Stave is the typical breakdowns in a carol, as opposed to chapters that we usually find in books. This was to make the book more like a Christmas song vs. a novel. Mr. Shelton takes Dickens story and adds notes from a variety of sources. At the end of each stave, there are also discussion questions. These questions cover topics such as Selfishness, and forgiveness.

    I found the notes and the discussion questions very appealing. While it definitely has a Christian spin to it, I think it could be a good copy of the novel for everyone. The discussion questions, for those not of the Christian persuasion, can be adapted. They are nice though, because they give you a way to relate to Scrooge’s story.

    If you don’t have a copy of this book in your library, or want a copy you can share with your family, church groups, or anyone else, check this version out. I think you’d like it. At $7.99 it would be money well spent, and would make a nice stocking stuffer.

    I wanted a discussion group for this, during the holidays. There wasn’t a big reaction, but if you want to participate, you can discuss it here. You’ll need to register first here.

    *DISCLAIMER* A review copy of this book was provided to me by FSB Associates for review. This in no way influenced my review.

    3 people like this post.

    The Gospel of Inclusion – Bishop Carlton Pearson

    Monday, December 14th, 2009

     Gospel of Inclusion

    Paperback: 320 pages
    Publisher: Atria (March 10, 2009)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 1416547932
    ISBN-13: 978-1416547938 
    Order from here:


    Bishop Carlton Pearson. A man who gave up a powerful position within the church due to his beliefs. Growing up he always felt that anyone who sinned and didn’t accept Christ for his savior was in Hell. One day he had a revelation that changed his outlook. This revelation is that due to Christ’s dying for man’s sins, we’ve already been saved. Christ’s mission he argues wasn’t to form a new religion. It wasn’t to force people to accept strict rules. For a Christian, the only way is to accept him, but due to his sacrifice Buddhists, Agnostics, Athiests, etc. are also saved, whether they acknowledge that or not.

    He seems to have some sorrow that he lost the respect of some of his fellow ministers (Rex Humbard). But states in the book, that while he could say that he’s been wrong, and was blinded, that he wouldn’t be true to himself. This Gospel he teaches, is from his view, and from what I’ve been able to find, the views of the Christian church for the first 500 years. The idea is called Universal Reconciliation. Many have apparently taught this, among them, Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory, and St. Isaac.

    As part of this gospel is the idea that there is no Hell. Hell is reportedly a man created concept for the most part, and for many of the world’s inhabitants are where they are currently. Children being abused, Wives/Husbands being beaten, someone wondering where their next meal is coming from, people dying from disease or poverty, all of these people are living in hell. When addressing the ideas of people like Hitler, Biship Pearson says that people with that much hatred in their hearts are already in hell.

    While I support some of the aspects of this idea, there are some that I have trouble wrapping my mind around. The idea that Hitler could be in Heaven I find as strange as the idea that Ghandi couldn’t be. Bishop Pearson however doesn’t negate a punishment post death. This punishment he states would be along the idea of the Catholic purgatory. In this scenario someone like Hitler is sent their, punished for 100/200/1000 years, and eventually learn their lesson at which time they are reconciled to God. So hell is not an eternal place. I’ve always had trouble with the ideas that people are sentenced to an eternity in Hell due to the fact that they never heard about Christ, or heard and ignored it. Also, there always appeared to be contradictions in things like fundamental Jews don’t believe in the trinity, yet are God’s chosen people. So it’s never made sense to me how his Chosen people could be condemned to an eternity of torment.

    I wish that everyone would read this book, and consider the ideas behind it. However, I know that there are many who won’t. If you question the right/wrong of things, I’d say get this book, read it and see what you think. If your the type who doesn’t beleive in questioning, then this book is probably not for you, but might be if you’d give it the chance.

    You can discuss it here

    The Secret Message of Jesus – Brian McLaren

    Saturday, July 25th, 2009



    Paperback: 288 pages
    Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 3, 2007)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0849918928 
    Order from here:

    This book is written based on the premise that the Christian religion somewhere along the way missed an important message from Jesus. The Author, Reverend Brian D. McLaren offers readers in many of his books, an alternative look at the Christian faith. Sometimes his views are very controversial. Many have been offended by them. This is the third of his books that I’ve read, and I personally found it a very rewarding reading experience.  This secret message he says, is good news for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, athiests, etc.  There are also warnings for those same groups though.

    The first section covers how to uncover this secret message.  He goes through the political message of Jesus.  This message basically is that we must go beyond what we see as the rules.  The Pharisees followed the rules strictly, even to the point where they killed someone for going against their rules.    The next message was one of inclusion.  Christ was welcoming to all.  I don’t want to give away the whole idea, I want you to read the book and discover it for yourself.

    The book includes a study guide, and appendixes.  One of the appendixes nicely goes through The Lord’s Prayer defining exactly what it means according to these ideas.   Some more fundamental types might be set off by the opening of the book, in which Rev. McLaren questions a lot of beliefs.  I feel though, that they should read further.  I feel he really taps into what the whole “Christian” religion is, or at least what it should be.

    This book, like “Myth of a Christian Nation”, had a very profound effect on me.  I read the two books as companions (though by different authors), and they shared similar thoughts/ideas.  After reading this, I found myself longing to follow the message he presented.  I’d still love to be able to make this message a reality, but I think it might be a naive possibility.  Regardless though, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this book.  It’s one I often suggest my friends read, and if you read it, and keep an open mind, I think it would have a changing effect you as well.

    You can discuss it here

    The Myth of a Christian Nation – Gregory A. Boyd

    Saturday, July 25th, 2009


    Paperback: 224 pages
    Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2007)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0310267315
    ISBN-13: 978-0310267317
    Order from here:

    After reading this book, I found myself longing for the world Reverend Boyd describes. The book is subtitled “How the quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church”. This book came about in 2004. Reverend Boyd feeling pressure from the right wing and his congregation into leading the church into voting for what they deemed the right candidate, delivered a series of impassioned sermons. This sermons were on the dangers of associating the Chrisitan faith with a political point of view. He titled this series “The Cross and The Sword”. He received overwhelming positive response, but also a lot of negative responses. 20 percent of his congregation [About 1000 people] left the church.

    They felt it was the Church’s job to promote an anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-American position. His idea though is simple. He sees two separate kingdoms. The first is the Kingdom of God, the other is the Kingdom of Man. He says the evangelical view is about “taking America back for God”. The right tends to vote for religious candidates, want to outlaw abortion, outlaw gay marriage, and involve the Church in all aspects of our lives, such as keeping God in the pledge of allegiance, prayer in schools, etc. He says that combining these two, is “idolatrous”, and is part of what is destroying the church, and damaging God’s Kingdom. He doesn’t say whether these positions are right or wrong, but these issues are part of the Kingdom of Man.

    The Kingdom of God is separate, and somewhat co-exists separately with the Kingdom of Man. The Kingdom of man is initially a power-over paradigm. It concerns our power over other countries, genders, races, etc. The objective is to control, and is used through our military force, etc. The Kingdom of God is strict to Jesus’ teachings. It’s a power-under paradigm. The objective under it is to serve. Help the homeless, help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick.

    He surmises that Jesus rules over the Kingdom of God, while Satan rules over the Kingdom of Man.  This isn’t to say that any government is evil, but things like War, Genocide, Slavery, etc. are things controlled by the Devil.   As he says, it’s a tit-for-tat arrangment.  Our soldiers bombed Iraq, days later Iraqi soldiers beheaded an American.  When our country struggled with slavery, we should have been out there from the beginning protesting against it. 

    The solution is simple but not easy.   He uses the Illustration of Jesus against Pilate.  Jesus had all the power in the world at his hands.  He could have drawn upon that power and defeated all those against him.  He would have been winning by Kingdom of the World standards, but he chose to lose by those standards.  In the Kingdom of the World, Jesus lost the fight.  However, in the Kingdom of God, he managed to show people that being willing to sacrifice everything you have for the love of another person, is much more powerful.  An example showing this was his dis-tasted seeing a war video.  Planes were shown bombing cities, with patriotic music, and people cheering.  His point was that rather than cheering over the deaths of innocents, we should have been in the streets praying for the people that perished.  The bombing was Kingdom of the World, the praying is Kingdom of God.

    I thought the book was well written.  The facts/ideas were interspersed with relevant scriptural passages.  While many would consider his ideas Liberal, he is in fact an evangelical minister.  This book is just about concerns that in order to control people and situations, that doing so in the name of God brings a lot of bad thoughts towards the church/country.  It’s due to what Christianity has done to some of these other countries, and the way it was done in not so Christlike manners, that’s made us enemies.  We can correct it, but need to be willing to take the steps to do so.

    I know that many who read this review will probably be infuriated, and refuse to read this book. I had doubts about it, but by the time I was through, I was wishing I could step outside the Kingdom of Man and all of it’s biases and control issues, and live within the Kingdom of God. That kingdom was a much more beautiful place to read about than the world seen outside my window.

    Pick this book up if you see it, rent it at the library, whatever you need to do, but please read it, and read it with an open mind. I think it might change how you look at things also, it certainly did for me.  You can discuss it here

    Finding Faith: A Search for What is Real/A Search for What Makes Sense – Brian D. Mclaren

    Monday, June 29th, 2009


    A Search for What is Real 

    Hardcover: 192 pages
    Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2007)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 031027267X
    ISBN-13: 9780310272670
    Order from here:
     Please Note:  I receive a small payment from Amazon for your purchase. 



    Hardcover: 192 pages
    Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2007)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0310272661
    ISBN-13: 978-0310272663
    Order from here:

    I decided to go a different route with these two books. They were originally written as one book labeld Finding Faith. The author split them up, but I’ll review them both in one review.  I purchased this book from a small overstock store.   This isn’t so much on what to believe, but how, and how to determine for yourself what is real. 

    He starts the book with an Analogy of a man leaving his kingdom, for a place much better than where he lived.  He walks for hours.  Finally he tires, and falls asleep under a tree.  He points his shoes to remind him of what direction to go in.  In the middle of the night though, his shoes are moved.  He awakens the next morning and continues his journey.  Everyplace looks familiar and comfortable.  The moral I got from it, is other lifes might look brighter and better, but the best life is the one where you feel at home, and everyone loves you.

    He then starts to examine the different ways some people experience God.  For some it’s being alone in Nature.   Some experience God through Ritual, such as communion.  Others, experience it through Obedience or self-denial.  He uses the example of a co-worker propositioning you.  By denying it, you bring yourself closer to God.  God can also be experienced through worship and art.  The final way is through the community.  When everyone comes together to help a person out, or share a common goal, you can feel God around you.  There are also other ways, which he goes into throughout the book.

    A search for What Makes sense covers doubt, people having trouble getting into the bible, and the different ways people read the bible. There’s the Literal approach, and the Liberal approach. He doesn’t say which is right or wrong, but gives you the pro’s and con’s and discusses how both sides have their good aspects, but both tend to want to pull things out based on their own interpretations.

    He also goes through different aspects, such as History in order to help you discover, or help you look further into discovering for yourself, what is real.

    The second book, a Search for what makes sense has 2 parts.  The first part is about Faith, Knowledge, and Doubt.  He explains whether or not it matters what you believe, the relationship between faith and knowledge, and how a person can get deeper in their faith.  The second part covers athiesm, why there are multiple religions, and whether all paths lead to the same god.  

    One section discusses bad faith versus good faith.   Good faith among other things is humble.  A person of good faith can learn from a child as well as their elders.  Good faith allows a person to ask questions, and to question their religion.  He used an example of a woman from a foreign country.  He’d met her at a party and began a discussion on their different religions.  As the conversation continued, he said, she became more agitated.  Finally she told him that her religion didn’t permit her to question things, but his discussion was causing her to have questions.  She abruptly ended the conversation. 

    In comparison is bad faith.  Bad faith is accepting things because that’s what you’re told.  I equate this to when you ask a question and someone says “because the bible says so”, or “because the Torah tells me that”, it can even lead into ministers.  This kind of “blind” faith is bad, because, as we’ve seen from Jim Jones, it can lead people to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons.  Bad faith is arrogant.  A person showing bad faith is determined that only their view of things is the right view.  I know I’ve been guilty of this plenty of times. 

    This book helped me see things from both sides of the equation.  I could see where others were misled by their views, but I could also see where my own views exhibited bad faith.  It really helped me understand that people in life, particular if they’re on a spiritual path, find themselves at different points on that path.  We should help each other, regardless of background along that spiritual path.  I really liked this book, and if you have the chance to read it, regardless of where you find yourself on that path, I think it will give you something to think about.  Well worth the time to read it. 

    Each chapter of each book ends with discussion questions, resources, and a prayer to help you on that leg of discovery.

    I really liked these books.  The author doesn’t get overly preachy.  He realizes that you might be on a different area of your spiritual journey, and doesn’t force.  Unlike some Christian authors I’ve seen, he doesn’t tell you “This is the facts”, but rather presents his thoughts and views, and lets you find your own way.  While these books probably wouldn’t appeal to long term believers, though I’d recommend them to anyone, as a good step for those who are curious, and willing to consider things.

    Pick up either one, or both, if  you get a chance.  I think you’ll find something in them that will help you in your life, or something that you can pass on to others.

    You can discuss it here

    Jesus Was a Liberal – Rev. Scott McLennan

    Monday, June 29th, 2009


    Hardcover: 272 pages
    Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan (May 12, 2009)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0230614299
    ISBN-13: 978-0230614291
    Order from here:

    Reverend McLennan is the Dean for Religious Life at Stanford.  He is also minister of the Stanford Memorial Church.   In this book he covers how Jesus’ life mirrored the views of a lot of American Liberals.  Throughout he book he covers some rather divisive topics such as abortion, prayer in school, and gay marriage.   He combines personal stories, scripture, and view from other ministers in describing his beliefs.  For example, regarding prayer in school he recites the passage Matthew 6:6 which states:

    “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

    He also covered the reaction many conservatives have toward the poor, war, etc.  On War he points out that Jesus taught “Turn the Other Cheek”, not “Let’s Bomb them back to the Stone Age.”. 

    One thing he emphasizes is how liberals shouldn’t be afraid of admitting they’re liberal and Christian.   They should stand tall and be proud.   He also covers how one can pursue their faith as a liberal christian.   However, I’m not sure I agree with labeling Christ as one thing or the other.  I think he had many liberal ideas, but also know there were some things such as divorce, and killing, that he found appalling.   I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

    I found many of his points to make a lot of sense, and overall the book helped me a lot.   I’d turned away from the ideas of religion, due to hypocrisy I saw, when I was young.  Seeing the fundamental view of things, which to me felt wrong, I felt there was no place for me in religion.  This book helped me see things differently.  While it helped me though, it wasn’t perfect.  There are some areas such as his argument supporting abortion rights, that I didn’t find strong enough.  However, overall I found the book very helpful in helping me get started and understand that my views are valid.  I’d love it if everyone would read this, but that would be naive.  I know there are those who wouldn’t touch it on a bet, however, for those who are open minded, and willing to look at new ideas, I’d defnitely recommend this book. 

     You can discuss it here

    1 people like this post.