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The Life You Long For: Learning to Live from a Heart of Rest

Christy Nockels. Multnomah, $23.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-19254-2

Singer and songwriter Nockels challenges readers to do away with relying on accomplishments, milestones, or career goals in order to “pursue the dreams God placed in your heart.” Drawing from scripture, Nockels defines the highest calling for believers as “to be loved by God and take your place as His child” and explains how she learned to surrender, trust God to reorder her life, and find joy and contentment in his words. She describes how quarantine living has revealed society’s previous hectic pace—driven by an “outside-in” living, based on the demands and expectations of others—and contrasts this with living “inside-out,” which demands one first embrace “the calling of the Beloved” inside oneself to structure one’s life. Despite the cultural tendency to view bigger as better, she encourages readers to resist lofty expectations for “big, beautiful events” and to replace them with happiness based in treasuring the small joys in life. Christians looking to slow down and form more intimate relationships will enjoy Nockels’s impassioned reminder that God provides a community and love to those who ask. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Entering Hekate’s Garden: The Magick, Medicine & Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft

Cyndi Brannen. Weiser, $22.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-57863-722-5

Energy healer Brannen (Keeping Her Keys) presents a wide-ranging botanical grimoire based on the traditions of ancient Greek goddess Hekate and her daughters, Circe and Medea. Brannen opens by reframing the mythology around the goddesses, suggesting that rather than being dark and evil sorceresses, they are empowered practitioners who use their extensive knowledge of the natural world for both “bane and blessing.” Brannen’s “pharmakeia” (“part art, part science, part intuition and part experience”) is made up mostly of spells and rituals, and covers the basics including banishing, protection, and spell building, as well as a variety of astrological, elemental, and magical correlations. At the heart of the guide is detailed information on 39 plants (among them dandelion, fennel, frankincense, juniper, lavender, and mugwort) explaining their physical and metaphysical properties, and how they can be incorporated into spells. For instance, moss can be added for slow-acting spells, and olive oil is best for “consecrating sacred icons.” Brannen mixes her recipes with poetry and explanations of Hekate’s influence as “Queen of Witches.” This’ll be a handy resource for witchcraft practitioners. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other

Charlotte Donlon. Broadleaf, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-5064-6196-0

Donlon, host of the Hope for the Lonely podcast, examines loneliness through a Christian lens in her evocative debut. In explaining the connection between loneliness and belonging, Donlon notes, “We can inhabit a posture of curiosity when we recognize loneliness as part of the human condition. Loneliness, at its heart, is a longing for more closeness with God.” Donlon reflects on accepting loneliness “as a normal companion,” whether it is felt occasionally or frequently; details statistics about stigmas attached to expressing loneliness; and emphasizes being honest about one’s feelings: “admitting I struggle with loneliness, talking about it, and writing about it have helped me let go of shame.” She discusses examples of loneliness as it relates to questions of one’s purpose, the dissolution of a relationship, mental illness, grief, or loss of faith. Donlon also includes suggestions for transforming occasions of loneliness into opportunities for drawing closer to others and God. For instance, in her “Meditations for Belonging” section she provides meditations that will get readers in the right mindset for meeting with a new friend, visiting a museum, or taking a nature walk. When loneliness seems overwhelming, she reminds herself: “There’s grace to be lonely, to know it’s normal to be lonely.” Donlon’s comforting work will appeal to any Christian looking to stave off the negative aspects of isolation. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Can I Believe?: An Invitation to the Hesitant

John G. Stackhouse. Oxford Univ, $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-19-092285-6

Stackhouse (Humble Apologetics), religious studies professor at Crandall University, mounts a robust defense of Christianity in this forceful work. In a convincing opening, he explains that believers rely on the same process for continuing in or choosing their religion as in other decisions in life: by considering options close to hand and seeing if they improve their lives. Stackhouse then pushes readers to reconsider the inherent strangeness of Christianity with a clear explanation of sin as “a fit of self-determination” and the once shocking notion that humanity’s reconciliation with God required the sacrifice of Jesus’s life. Next, he argues ways in which believers can trust Christianity, including assertions of the accuracy of the historical gospels, Christianity’s “coherent” philosophical explanations of the universe and human impulses, and how Christianity resonates with human desires for beauty. He closes by offering brief refutations of two common reasons to not believe in Christianity: its demand for being the only true option (“all the major religions reduce to some basic combination of virtues”) and why God allows evil (“the greatest good” is beyond human comprehension). Stackhouse’s framework for considering Christianity holds great promise, but he has a habit of dismissively brushing off other faiths. This accessible take will be of aid to any Christians looking for an articulate defense of their theological positions. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again

Lysa TerKeurst. Nelson, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7180-3987-5

Bestseller TerKeurst (It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way), president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, again plumbs the depths of her heartbreak to help readers through the difficulties of forgiveness in this excellent, revealing rumination. “Forgiveness is God’s divine mercy for human hearts that are so prone to turn hurt into hate,” she writes before referring to betrayals that hurt her, particularly her husband’s affair, and the emotional struggles related to forgiveness, such as bitterness and resentment, that kept her “tortured and, even worse, unable to move forward.” Her advice involves “collecting the dots” (knowing one’s story), “connecting the dots” (understanding the past and how it influences the present), and “correcting the dots” (changing perceptions to see things differently). Throughout, TerKeurst reminds readers that “the goal with forgiveness isn’t perfection—it’s progress” and that none of it is possible without Jesus: “I am forgiven. Therefore, I must forgive.” An appendix of relevant scripture verses and an assortment of downloadable resources available through the book’s companion website round things out. TerKeurst’s fans will love this stirring, realistic look at confronting the arduous aspects of forgiveness. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers

Crystal Downing. Broadleaf, $24.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-5064-6275-2

Downing (Changing Signs of Truth), codirector of Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center, which focuses on 20th-century Christian writers, considers how the writings of Christian scholar and mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) sought to discover “new conclusions on unchanging foundations” of modern Christianity. While best known for her crime fiction, Sayers was a prolific writer of religious dramas for radio and the stage, as well as academic works on Christian doctrine. Her stories and scholarship challenged dogmatism, relativism, the idolatry of language, British censorship laws, approaches to faith and atonement rooted in “an economy of exchange”—as well as those who hid or ignored the subversive nature of Christ himself. Sayers instead argued that “change can be joyously engaged as long as Christian faith remains rooted in the creeds of the early church.” Downing notes that Sayers disapproved of focus on the artists over the art, once decrying the “craze for the ‘personal angle’ ” that she believed turned criticism into gossip. While Downing tracks the course of Sayers’s personal and professional lives, she never loses sight of Sayers’s art and artistic process—a “theology of creativity” that she believed could “maintain ancient truth by handing it over to new expressions.” This is a powerful intellectual portrait of an important 20th-century writer who merits closer study. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Spiritual Malady: How to Attain Peace of Mind and Lasting Happiness

Ren Koi. Ren Koi, $10.99 e-book (218p) ASIN B0858TYJNL

Koi (Addiction Prevention), host of the Life in Recovery podcast, draws on his experiences with addiction recovery, spiritual awakenings, and psychedelics to offer 10 lessons for attaining peace of mind. In 12-step programs, Koi notes, “Spiritual Malady” is a state where one sees oneself as fully separated from others, and from this separation comes feelings that one must fend for oneself against the world, that willpower is enough to change, and that coping mechanisms are necessary to survive. Koi argues that by giving up illusions created by the Spiritual Malady, one can connect with the “Higher Power”—consciousness, connection, life as it is—and faithfully conduct self-assessments of one’s history, relationships, and goals. The lessons imparted deal with impermanence, patience, ego-deflation, and atonement, among others, and include practices such as meditation and 12-step–style moral inventories. Koi also shares his life-changing experience with the hallucinogenic ayahuasca, and subsequent psilocybin use, that opened up his subconscious, allowed him to “drop selfishness,” and “become more open and honest in relationships.” Though sometimes circuitous and scattered in focus, Koi’s blend of substance recovery methods and philosophical insights will be of interest to those seeking spiritual intervention. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 09/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Extravagant: Discovering a Life of Dangerous Generosity

Brady Boyd. Howard, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982101-40-4

Boyd (Remarkable), senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, delivers heartfelt lessons from scripture for developing the “extravagant heart” God intended for all people. Though the notion of extravagance may initially conjure images of blatant excess, Boyd directs readers to the biblical tale of Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with costly perfume—a gesture perceived as wasteful by some yet commended by Jesus. He provides examples of lifestyle choices (charitable giving, volunteering) made by the “dangerously generous” and extols the power of empathetic and cautionary tales, noting Jesus’s habit of teaching through parables, and asks readers to consider what Jesus might say if he wrote a parable about their lives. In stark contrast, Boyd shares some sobering statistics on stinginess (“Three out of four Americans never volunteer an hour of their time”) and explains how to recognize fears that hinder generosity. Ultimately, Boyd encourages those who want to “choose the path of extravagance” to make “a simple decision to live like God asks for his people to live.” Any Christian will be inspired to live more generously by Boyd’s exemplary guide. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of Charles H. Spurgeon

Thomas Breimaier. IVP Academic, $33.25 (282) ISBN 978-0-8308-5330-4

Breimaier, a theology lecturer at Spurgeon’s College in London, examines in this thorough but dry debut the biblical hermeneutics of 19th-century English evangelical preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892). The author begins by covering Spurgeon’s theological education (which was not formal or lengthy) and the early years of his ministry before diving into a close reading of Spurgeon’s engagement with the Old Testament, the New Testament, his development of preaching techniques, and his work establishing institutions for the training of evangelical preachers. Breimaier shows how themes of conversion and crucicentrism formed the pillars of his preaching and were the driving concerns of his life. Preaching against contemporaries who rejected literalist readings of scripture, Spurgeon became dedicated, Breimaier argues, to the conversion of his listeners or readers through an emphasis on the truth of the Holy Spirit and the substitutionary atonement which had taken place at the crucifixion: Christ having taken on the sins of all mankind in order to expiate them through his own death. While very little of Spurgeon’s personal life can be gleaned from Breimaier’s narrow focus, those interested in 19th-century evangelical theology will find this illuminating. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Rachel S. Mikva. Beacon, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-80705-187-0

Rabbi Mikva (Midrash VaYosha), professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, argues in this excellent analysis that, though “all religious ideas are dangerous,” those same ideas can provoke acts of compassion, generosity, and justice. The difference between antagonism and compassion, Mikva suggests, depends on how ideas are interpreted and applied in the context of everyday life. To make her case, Mikva reveals how Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions have wrestled with concepts such as chosenness, election, reward, and punishment in ways both beneficial and brutal. For instance, each religion takes “the concept of reward and punishment” portrayed on “the divine plane” to create a “parallel system of human justice”: Israel imitated their God with a system “punishing measure for measure”; Christianity “promises the kingdom of God to those who provide support for people in need, and age-long punishment to those who do not”; and the Koran “attaches eternal consequences to divine judgment.” With a particular focus on the textual sources of each tradition—Torah, New Testament, and Qur’an—Mikva illustrates how religious ideas can be used to include or exclude, enslave or liberate, and inspire hate for the supposed religious “other.” Unfortunately, Mikva’s focus on Abrahamic religions leaves out insights from Hindu, Buddhist, and indigenous traditions. This cogent work provides a promising platform for interreligious engagement, particularly for interfaith academics. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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