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On the Edge of Hope: No Matter How Dark the Night, the Redeemed Soul Still Sings

Mark Chironna. Chosen, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8007-6257-5

Pastor Chironna (The Dead Prophets Society) delivers an uneven Christian take on overcoming mental illness. The author shares how in 2007, he felt as if he had been hit by a “cosmic bus” that marked the onset of three and a half years of anxiety and depression. He turned to the Bible for advice and shares with readers what he learned: “Jesus loves you so fully and completely that He will be with you in the darkest, most seemingly Godforsaken emotional places.” The author reports fearing God’s judgment because he had lost sight of God’s loving nature, and remarks that though Job losing his children and belongings might seem like divine punishment, it actually reveals God’s goodness because Job learned that even in dire times “nothing could separate him from God’s love.” To heal, the author contends, one must face up to one’s sin and pain, and bring them before God for forgiveness. Chironna’s personal reflections are frustratingly vague (he enigmatically admits he “cannot share all the details and all the stories”), but the affirming advice will hearten weary Christians (“We can trust ourselves absolutely to the goodness and the power of God”). Readers who can look past the opaque autobiography will find some uplifting insights. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Make Room: Take Control of Your Space, Time, Energy, and Money to Live on Purpose

Jennifer Ford Berry. Baker, $16.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-5409-0215-3

The 29 Minute Mom podcaster Berry (Purpose Over Possessions) lays out a Christian approach to physical and metaphysical decluttering in this superficial volume. Pulling from scripture, she outlines “how to strip away what is less important (a.k.a. clutter) in order to make room for” spiritual fulfillment. The author contends that “there is a direct connection between outer order and inner calm,” and urges readers to collect wisdom, memories, and “ways to do God’s work” in lieu of physical possessions. To clean up “space clutter,” Berry recommends focusing on one small area at a time and getting rid of what one doesn’t use, then finding a “specific space” to keep each belonging that remains. Clearing “mental clutter”—such as worries, fear, and negative self-talk—requires figuring out what’s important in one’s life and making time for those activities, though the author provides little guidance on how to do so. Her suggestion that readers discover their “God-given purpose” by looking inward and studying the Bible also lacks in specifics. Berry brings a cheerful disposition, but readers may find themselves at a loss on how to implement the facile advice (“If you don’t like the way your thoughts or your actions make you feel, choose differently”). This comes up short. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge

Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé, trans. from the Tibetan by Paloma Lopez Landry. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-64547-087-8

Editors Landry, Ibby Caputo, and Paul Gustafson assemble in this superb manual the oral teachings of Tibetan monk T’hayé on lojong (“mind training”) practices in Buddhism. T’hayé expounds on the Buddhist text The Seven Key Points of Mind Training and distills its wisdom on “taming the mind” and “refining away mental afflictions until we aren’t ruled by our circumstances.” He proffers advice on how to follow each of the “key points” (which include practice, transformation, and commitment), suggesting that to integrate Buddhist teachings into one’s everyday life (point four), readers should adopt a mindset characterized by a resolve to develop such qualities as generosity and diligence. To practice taming one’s mind (point two), the author recommends continually reminding oneself that everything is an illusion and a construct of one’s perception. Practitioners will appreciate the emphasis on practical application and enjoy the thoughtful guided meditations on such questions as “What does it mean to have freedoms?” and “Does everything have a cause and is everything a result?” This sage volume offers something for Buddhism students of all levels. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Uncommon Influence: Saying Yes to a Purposeful Life

Tony and Lauren Dungy. Tyndale House, $19.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4964-5889-6

In this inspiring manual, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony and his wife Lauren Dungy (Uncommon Marriage) provide advice on living out God’s plan. Inspired by Jesus’s entreaties to help those in need, the Dungys started taking in foster children about 20 years ago and have cared for dozens of kids since then, housing as many as 15 at a time. The authors share stories and lessons they’ve gleaned along the way about how to “fulfill the specific service role that God has in store for you.” Touting the merits of perseverance, the authors recount how they committed to raising their adopted son Jordan even after a doctor suggested they return him because he suffered from a difficult to treat disorder, reckoning that God had brought him into their lives for a reason. The Dungys discuss using prayer as their central tool for managing their large household and recommend that readers “learn to reflexively pray” in the course of day-to-day life. The authors have a knack for distilling their wisdom into pithy one-liners, such as “We can’t bash and bless someone at the same time” and “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Cogent advice and heartwarming anecdotes make this sure to please aspiring “Hall of Faithers.” (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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How to Deal with How You Feel: Managing the Emotions That Make Life Unmanageable

James Merritt. Harvest House, $14.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-7369-8534-5

This sensible if simplistic work by pastor Merritt (Character Still Counts), former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, offers Christian guidance on controlling one’s emotions. Drawing on scripture, the author “outlines God’s blueprint for how to deal with your emotions.” Merritt looks to the Bible for advice on coping with such “life takers” as anxiety, anger, and loneliness. For example, he recommends readers follow the stress management strategy exemplified by Isaiah as he awaited the fall of Jerusalem: “Look up at the unequaled God, listen to the unlimited God, and linger with the unfailing God.” Examining how to embody such positive emotions as joy, hope, and gratitude, he contends that “giving thanks is a big deal to God” and suggests that Christians might give thanks for their literacy, religious freedom, and the roofs over their heads. Some solutions can feel trite—such as the four-step plan for dealing with anxiety: celebrate, appreciate, pray to, and meditate on God—but the scriptural analysis offers some keen insights into how biblical figures used God’s grace to master their feelings, as when Merritt discusses Jesus’s teaching that “worry is an insult to God. It’s a slap in his face.” Christians will find some wisdom in this handy if lightweight volume. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Twist Your Fate: Manifest Success with Astrology and Tarot

Theresa Reed. Weiser, $18.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-57863-768-3

Tarot card reader Reed (Tarot) delivers career guidance based in astrology and tarot in this accessible work. The author uses techniques from her practice to tell readers “how to find potential paths best suited for your cosmic makeup and how to groove with the current movement of the cosmos.” She explains how to interpret one’s sun, moon, and ascendant signs, and provides a modified birth chart in which the traditional “houses” representing the different areas of life have been replaced by such professional considerations as “public image/brand” and “work environment.” Delving into tarot, Reed walks through how to use tarot “spreads” to gain clarity on questions; for example, she explains that in a spread of her own creation, the first card pulled from the deck “shows the energy around the question,” the second indicates “what you need to know,” and the third offers advice. Reed skillfully balances informativeness and entertainment, using playful prose (“I have a red-hot Scorpion Moon temper—and when I get angry, watch out!”) that will keep beginners onboard as she explores more advanced material. The result is a fresh and fun fusion of two esoteric traditions that has something new for novice and experienced practitioners alike. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Worried About Everything Because I Pray About Nothing: How to Live with Peace and Purpose Instead of Stress and Burnout

Chad Veach. Bethany House, $22.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7642-4018-8

Pastor Veach (Help! I Work with People) provides guidance for cultivating a “healthy prayer life” in this lighthearted outing. “Nobody is born knowing how to pray,” Veach suggests, using scriptural analysis and personal anecdotes to explore “the purposes and practice of prayer” while providing advice on praying. He describes “refusing to do for my kids what they can do for themselves” and contends that God does the same for Christians, aiding their personal development by pointing them toward their purpose without doing the work for them. The author rebuts those who claim prayer doesn’t do anything and asserts that it’s like a workout in that its benefits can accrue long after the exercise has ended. To help readers better recognize God’s responses to prayer, Veach notes that God’s guidance will always be in harmony with the Bible and that, according to Proverbs, circumstances might be nudges from God. Some of the advice falls flat (“You’ll know in your knower” is particularly unhelpful), but Veach’s ability to comically relate his points to daily life amuses, such as when he observes that people often avoid God and dentists for the same reason: shame over not living up to their standards. Christians will appreciate this insightful program for improving prayer. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Upside-Down Apocalypse: Grounding Revelation in the Gospel of Peace

Jeremy Duncan. Herald, $17.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-5138-1039-3

In this refreshing exegesis, pastor Duncan (Dirt and Stardust) interprets the Book of Revelation through the peacemaking teachings of Jesus. The author grounds Revelation in its historical, literary, and cultural context, exploring “the way God is revealed to us” through Jesus’s nonviolence. Filling in historical background, Duncan notes that Roman emperor Domitian engaged in the sporadic and inconsistent persecution of Christians at the time John wrote Revelation, and explains that John gives the seven churches different advice because they had experienced different treatment under Domitian’s reign. Duncan provides shrewd readings of some of Revelation’s “out-there” imagery and notes that the four creatures covered in eyes in the throne room scene draw on Near Eastern literature’s tradition of using eyes to represent wisdom and right vision. The author suggests that Revelation’s “violent imagery” actually promotes nonviolence, and he posits that the bloody “sword” Jesus wields while riding the white horse actually refers to Jesus’s words: “Victory is won not with weapons, war, or force but through the testimony of nonviolence.” The straightforward, no-frills analysis builds an accessible, cogent case that John lays out a more hopeful vision than is traditionally assumed. The result is a thought-provoking look at Revelation. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything

Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Brazos, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-58743-479-2

This arduously meticulous treatise by Volf (Exclusion and Embrace), a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, and McAnnally-Linz (Public Faith in Action), associate director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, lays out a “systematic theology” that takes “the home of God as the goal of creation.” Providing a close reading of the Bible, the authors contend that Christians’ purpose is to make the mortal world worthy of God: “Creation comes fully to itself when, indwelled by God, it becomes God’s home and creatures’ home in one.” Examining Genesis and Exodus, Volf and McAnnally-Linz suggest that Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit and the Israelites worshipping the golden calf forestalled God’s intention to “dwell in the world.” The gospel of John describes the fulfillment of this promise and details the “arrival of God’s glory into the world in the temple of Jesus’s flesh,” encouraging readers to embrace Jesus’s example of having “joy and hope” in the face of suffering. The thorough and rigorous scriptural analysis, however, is hampered by maddeningly indecipherable prose (“Home is a bounded material, social, and personal space of resonant and reciprocal belonging that is at its best when it is situated in a homelike relation to all other spaces”). The thesis may be novel, but the stiff execution means few will stick around to explore it. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Happy Rant: Wandering To and Fro Through Some Things That Don’t Matter All That Much (and a Few That Really Do)

Ted Kluck, Ronnie Martin, and Barnabas Piper. Harvest House, $18.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7369-8532-1

The Happy Rant podcasters Kluck (The Extraordinary Life of a Mediocre Jock), Martin (The Bride[Zilla] of Christ), and Piper (Help My Unbelief) hold court in these underwhelming dialogues on issues facing modern Christians. Presented as transcripts, the conversations cover such topics as evangelical celebrity, Christian fiction, and toxic masculinity while following the mantra “Take Jesus seriously, take our faith seriously, laugh at ourselves, and laugh at the absurdity in so much of Christian (and broader) culture.” The authors decry pastors who strive to seem hip, positing that truly “cool” people focus on humility and devotion to the Bible and the church. They also take on politics, lambasting the state of discourse: “Politics, in its current mutant form, has as much to do with issues of justice as Popeyes does with answering the question, Why did the chicken cross the road?” The humor, largely relegated to asides and footnotes, is more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, and the authors’ aggrieved attitude comes across as bitter (“You’re white and north of 40, which means the only two ways to really be ‘okay’ culturally are to be either gay or British”). Aside from a few chuckles, this doesn’t deliver much. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2022 | Details & Permalink

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