Book review: The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman

Seven months after her soldier husband’s heroic death in the Middle-East, Corrie Saunders moves back to his hometown and into the house that once belonged to his grandmother. She doesn’t feel completely at ease in Saunders Creek, partly because her dead husband’s family resents her for keeping the house, and partly because she knows that she’s still looking for Jarrod. And she finds him…

Well, it’s probably a good thing I don’t write dust jackets for a living.

Christian fiction isn’t usually my style, but I enjoyed The Widow of Saunders Creek. It’s a nice PMS read. It won’t win any writing awards, but it’s comforting like an old duvet, and it has a horror twist just creepy enough to make you peek over your shoulder when you pass dark rooms.

Had this been anything other than straightforward Christian fiction, that horror twist could probably have been exploited more, but Bateman chose not to stray too far from within the confines of the research she did. I was disappointed that she didn’t flesh out the folklore around the witchy backdrop of Saunders Creek more, which would have steered her farther from the novel/warning story line she toes at times.

Final verdict: 3.5/5.

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Disclaimer: As part of their Blogging for Books initiative, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group gave me a free review copy of The Widow of Saunders Creek in exchange for an honest review of the book. If this sounds like a deal you’d like to get in on (free books!) click the picture below.

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Church, Christians, Christ: two books with awesome names

I don’t think there are many Christians who have escaped the church unscathed. Most of us have been on the receiving end of gossip, judgment, unjust accusations, rejection, hypocrisy, even spiritual, emotional or physical abuse—all at the hands of people who by their own definition (Christ followers) should be the last to judge, criticise, reject or misuse. Is it any wonder that people are turning to Christ but rejecting Christianity, when Christianity is riddled with harsh churches and GOD HATES FAGS pickets? Or worse—abandoning Christ because of Christianity?

Two interesting reads in this regard. The first is Dan Kimball’s Adventures in Churchland, which tackles this trend by challenging churches to rediscover their Christ roots. Their Christ roots, not their Christian roots. He wants churches to get back to judging…but the right kind of judging: loving action to help people in their walks with God, not the legalistic rejection of practices that don’t align with their own view of scripture.

The second is Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. His approach is more humorous than Kimball’s, but the same basic message prevails. He points out that in the early church, the people who believed in Christ were called disciples, not Christians. And maybe a little something (well, a lot of something) went missing in the eventual transition. That’s what we need to get back if we want our churches not to work (most churches’ biggest concern nowadays) but to serve.

Both books are interesting reads peppered liberally with personal experience and practical advice. Perhaps some people won’t read them because “they’ve been saved” or are actively involved with a church with no problems, but that’s missing the point of these books: they’re as much for the apostle as the apostate.

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Note: While my review is an honest reflection of my opinion on the books, I should mention that I received free copies in exchange for a review. Dan Kimball’s Adventures in Churchland I got from NetGalley and Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People from Waterbrook Multnomah.

Book Review: Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After by Craig Groeschel

This is my second book review for Blogging for Books*. Not even being on the same continent as marriage, I was kind of sceptical about Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After. But it was either this or Christian fiction (shudder) so here we are.

No regrets! If you’re going to write a Christian book at least have the good grace to make it humorous, and Craig doesn’t disappoint. Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After is insightful, practical and witty. It’s obvious that Craig’s advice is steeped in both love for the Lord and years of experience.

It turns out it isn’t just for about-to-be-weds or newly-weds or just-plain-weds after all. If you picture a wedding somewhere (anywhere) in your future, this book is worth a read. It’s not a dating guide and it won’t deliver Instant And Lasting Love. But it will show you how foundational to life and marriage an intimate relationship with God is. It’s enriching.

My only complaint: the two chapters devoted to the roles of husbands and wives. Craig interprets Ephesians 5:21 in light of 5:22 and not vice versa—putting wives’ submission front and centre instead of mutual submission (courtesy mentions at the tail-ends of chapters do not count, you see). It undermines the whole message of the book which, as a whole, I thought was rather good.

The book’s best line is probably: “Is oral moral?” Yes, actual chuckling.

Overall, I rate it four out of five. 

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Related: Praying for one’s future Two.

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*This means I received a free copy in exchange for a review. 

Book Review: As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur

This is my first review for Blogging for Books. As such, the standard disclaimer applies: I got a free copy to review but all opinions are mine, etc etc. Let’s get down to it!

In As Silver Refined, Kay Arthur tackles one of the most difficult topics for both new and maturing Christians: disappointments and the seeming contradictory nature of a loving God and the reality of pain.

With sensitivity, warmth and insight, Kay shows us how God uses disappointments in our lives to refine our faith. It is not just a case of ‘soldiering on’. It is about hopeful, expectant obedience and trust in a good, holy God.

If you’ve experienced more of your fair share of pain in life, this book will help locate your struggles in the bigger picture of God’s plan. It is healing, empowering and inspirational.

My only complaint is that Kay addresses the reader as ‘beloved’, for reasons she explains in the book itself. I feel her empathy and it’s just a small, editorial niggle, but I don’t like it when authors try to foster a relationship via epithets.

Overall: three out of five.

Not A Fan (1): Too much “belief”, not enough “follow”

(Part 1, Chapter 1 & 2)

Not A Fan asks you to define your relationship with Jesus. Are you a fan or a follower? What’s the difference? Well, fans are ‘enthusiastic admirers’: they

“…confuse their admiration for devotion. They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for intimacy with Jesus. Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith.”

In short, fans don’t want the same thing from their relationship with Jesus that Jesus does.

“…Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”

Kyle starts by categorising the readers of his book into two groups: the “Jesus fish on the back of my car” group and the “Why is there a fish on the back of my friend’s car?” group. I think there’s a third: the “I probably should have a fish on my car” group. Those are the fans who strongly suspect their fandom but aren’t quite sure what to do about it, so they look over at Group 1…or RSS every popular Christian blog…thinking: Well, someone’s* got to know what they’re doing.

(If you’ve read Not A Fan, be honest: how many things could you check off on the list on p20? [7] I had to laugh at ‘Did you get a purpose driven life in 40 days or less?’ because boy did I try.)

He uses Nicodemus from John 3 as an example. Nic was a religious leader who believed in Jesus, but actually following him would cost Nicodemus everything, so he tried to ‘follow’ Jesus on the downlow. He believed but he didn’t really want to follow, because following Jesus meant commitment and commitment meant sacrifice. And belief alone isn’t enough – it has to be coupled with commitment:

“[T]he two [belief and following] are firmly connected. They are the heart and lungs of faith. One can’t live without the other. If you try and separate the message of follow from the message of believe, belief dies in the process. … Following is part of believing. To truly believe is to follow.”

Fans want “a gospel that cost[s] them nothing and offer[s] them everything”.

Jesus wants a “twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment that will interfere with your life”.

There is no middle ground.

*Jesus does. Go figure.

Everything.