Mailbag

The Mailbag: Will you review my book?

I’ve written a book. Will you please read and review it or give me some feedback on it?

Every time I receive this e-mail from an author, I just want to reach through the screen and hug her. I’ve been in her shoes.

When my book, Jacob: Journaling the Journey, was in print I, too, had to write to bloggers and Christian newspapers and magazines asking them to write a review of my book. It’s a good way to introduce potential readers to your work and encourage them to buy a copy or twenty.

I never liked soliciting reviews for two reasons: First, it’s kind of like asking a boy out on a date – it’s an awkward and weird feeling that you’re essentially saying, “Do you like me enough to say ‘yes’ to me?”. Then, there’s the agonizing wait to see whether or not you’re going to be rejected. Second, I always felt like I was asking the person to invest an enormous amount of time and work, and all I was able to give her in return was my thanks and a copy of my book. It felt like asking someone for a huge favor that I’d never be able to repay.

So my heart goes out to those fledgling authors who are having to cold call bloggers for reviews. It ranks right up there with having a tooth pulled.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot and people are asking me to write reviews of their books, I have a much different perspective. Far from feeling like authors are asking me for a humongous favor, it would be my joy to serve and encourage each and every one of them by writing up shining and supportive reviews for all.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, I find that I can’t:

📖 There aren’t enough hours in the day to read and review, in a timely manner, all of the books I receive inquiries about. And, I can’t bring myself to say “yes” to some authors and “no” to others.

📖 I’ll just be perfectly transparent with y’all, I’m very undisciplined right now when it comes to book reading. I study my Bible. I read lots of articles. But for some strange reason, I’m not reading many books – even books of my own choosing – at this season of my life. I can’t really figure it out because I’ve lived my whole life with my nose in a book, but…there it is.

📖 Writing a book review (especially when you have a relationship with the author) is kind of like a friend showing you her new baby and saying, “Isn’t she cute?”. Fortunately, I happen to think all babies are cute, but…with books, not so much. And the last thing I want to have to do is tell a friend, or even a stranger, that her book has a face only a mother could love. I’m an author. I know what it’s like to hear that. It’s no bueno.

Every once in a blue moon, I’ll write a brief recommendation of a book I’ve picked up of my own volition and taken my sweet time reading because I think it’s something my readers would enjoy or benefit from. I can do that without the pressure of a deadline or worrying about hurting an author’s feelings.

Also, I try to compensate for the fact that I don’t write book reviews myself by publishing reviews written by guest posters. If you would like to write a book review as a guest poster, or if you’re an author who has a blog-less friend ready to write a review but needing a platform to post it on, drop me an e-mail and let’s chat about it.

While I’m honored and humbled that anybody out there might want my opinion on her book, and I dearly wish I could write a review for everyone who asks, I’m afraid that – with rare exceptions for people I’m extremely close to or who have served as mentors to me – for this season of my life, the answer has to be an across the board “no”.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Book Reviews, Guest Posts, Salvation

Guest Post: A Review of “From Death to Life: How Salvation Works”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

photo credit: Stephen J. Melniszyn

A Review of Allen S. Nelson IV’s
From Death to Life: How Salvation Works
by Katy B.

The most agonizing, frustrating experience in my ministry to women is the woman who claims to be “saved” but gives no evidence of it. No interest in talking about Jesus, no interest in holiness, reading the Bible, going to church, serving God’s people. She has a salvation testimony (often dramatic and self-glorifying) that is superficial, shallow, and devoid of any real repentance for her sin. I suspect she’s a false convert. And I find it exceptionally difficult to talk to false converts.

In From Death to Life, Pastor Allen Nelson confronts the disaster of false conversions, linking them to a false understanding of salvation: what it is, what it does, and how it works. He writes, “Ask fifteen people what it takes to be saved and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll get twenty different answers.” (Loc 173

He makes the bold statement that “there is no spiritual life in many who claim to be Christians in America.(Loc 247) He calls them the “walking dead”.

How does that happen? What would cause a person to wrongly believe he or she is a Christian? He lays some of the responsibility at the feet of churches that use methods such as external manipulation, diluted gospel presentations, the altar call, and the sinner’s prayer to lead the walking dead to their false professions of faith and their false assurances of salvation. He blisters easy-believism practices that, even if well-intentioned, have done damage to churches more influenced by a fallen culture than by God’s own Word.

So how does salvation work? The author has narrowed the answer down to five main points:

1. The gospel must be proclaimed.

2. God must move.

3. The sinner must respond in faith and repentance.

4. God justifies the sinner.

5. The sinner grows in the Lord over a lifetime.

Pastor Nelson not only unpacks, but folds, hangs up, and neatly puts away each of these main points in a few short chapters. In doing so, he poses and then answers questions such as, “What is the true gospel?”, “What is biblical repentance?”, “What is saving faith?”, and “What exactly is justification?” His answers are delivered in a direct, engaging, accessible style with plenty of biblical illustrations and scriptural references. No theological dictionary needed.

The book includes “howto’s” but doesn’t read like a “howto” manual. The tone is pastoral, sometimes comfortable, sometimes convicting, but never harsh. At times, the reading felt like sitting over coffee with Pastor Nelson, asking questions about various evangelistic situations, and receiving useful advice on how to respond.

A destitute woman in a homeless shelter, eyes pallid, needle tracks running down her arms, naturally incites my heart instinct to put my arms around her, tell her Jesus loves her, and give her some money. But Pastor Nelson reminds us:

“People need to hear more than “Jesus loves you,” What they need to hear today is what they’ve always needed: to know that they are sinners, that they need a Savior, that Jesus is that Savior, and until and unless they come to Him in faith, they will justly spend an eternity facing the punishment of their sins.” (Loc 2413)

He points out that it is vital that we all (not just the “trained professionals”) know what to say when the time comes to share the gospel of Christ. And while there is no formula, it is essential that the facts of the gospel are understood. The book helpfully guides the reader in a biblical understanding of how salvation happens and presents realistic examples of responses that can be used with unbelievers/false converts in evangelistic conversations.

The chapter “Plant, Water, Trust God, Repeat” is a compelling warning to stick to a biblical approach to evangelizing the lost. (Throughout the book he gives examples of unbiblical approaches.) In this encouraging chapter, he discusses applying how salvation works in real life scenarios, acknowledging that it is not always easy. He doesn’t present himself as a superhero evangelist.

This is a serious book, but the author can also be funny. I got a laugh out of his response to the command to “ask Jesus into your heart”. His tone, however, is utterly serious when discussing repentance:

“God doesn’t beg people to repent so they can be the star player on His team. He demands repentance. He owes mankind nothing. What a fearful and insolent game we play by making repentance an optional feature to becoming a Christian, refusing to properly define it in hopes of sneaking people into the kingdom, or by flat out dismissing it altogether.” (Loc 1164)

He spends a good bit of time parked on repentance, emphasizing that biblical repentance is necessary for any person to become a Christian. He asserts, “Remorse does not equal repentance” and goes on to give what he calls the bare necessities of repentance.

Is it possible to know if a person has actually been converted? In the chapter on sanctification, the author acknowledges that while we can’t see the heart, we can use the discernment God gives us to see evidence of true conversion. He provides a practical alliteration method to assist in discerning whether or not the gospel has actually taken root in a person’s heart and the changes we would expect to see in a truly converted person.

He warns the church against haphazardly affirming people as Christians without exercising grace-filled discernment:

“Often, we claim that the problem in our churches is that too many people are immature believers when the real problem is that many we call immature, actually have no life in Christ at all. They aren’t growing because they aren’t living.” (Loc 1878)

The sanctification chapter, my favorite, thrust me to a fresh examination of my own life using his alliteration template. What evidence of salvation would others see in me? What would they discern as my motivation for life? There is plenty of self-application for the reader.

The book has three appendices. Appendix 1: The Sinner’s Prayer, Appendix 2: Acts 2 is Not an Altar Call, Appendix 3: Putting “Baptist” Back in Your Church. In these appendices, the author makes some “say whaaaat?!? observations that will rock your world if your church endorses these practices.

This is a short book. Although the print version is only 200 pages, there is nothing shallow about the content. The reader will step into a deep pool. Did I know how salvation works before I read the book? Yes. Have I been guilty of using unbiblical methods to try to bring about a conversion? Yes. I finished the book with an unanticipated, heart wrenching reorientation to the gospel as the power of God unto salvation. I bet I’m not the only reader who closed the book and repented.

I began by saying I find it exceptionally difficult to talk to false converts. What do you say to someone who believes she is saved when it is clear that she is not? Pastor Nelson is immeasurably supportive in reinforcing that “we must proclaim the gospel. Without it, people will go to hell. It’s as simple as that.” (Loc 441)

The book left me feeling hopeful, energized, looking forward to my next evangelistic encounter. God saves sinners. God saves sinners. And he uses sinners like me to do so.

Pastor Nelson writes, “Every single one of us is charged with sharing the gospel with those God providentially places in our life.” What a calling, what a staggering privilege. God could sovereignly call His own to Himself without us, but He has chosen to work through us. This book will certainly help us in our evangelism. I recommend it for everyone.

¹Katy reviewed the Kindle edition of the book and used Kindle location numbers rather than page numbers.


Allen “Cuatro” Nelson, IV, author of From Death to Life, is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, Arkansas, and co-host of The Rural Church Podcast. Contact Him directly via Twitter to receive a free study guide with your order of From Death to Life or a discount on bulk orders. You can also order from Amazon.

Katy can’t remember when she became a Christian but is assured that, by the grace of God alone, she is a Christian. She ministers to women in her OPC church, in homeless shelters, in a prison, and sometimes at the grocery store. She is an executive with a United States health care corporation and enjoys her work, although she would rather be reading. You can find Katy on Twitter at @KatyvonBora.

ALTHOUGH I DO MY BEST TO THOROUGHLY VET THE THEOLOGY OF THOSE WHO SUBMIT GUEST POSTS, IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE FOR THINGS TO SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS. PLEASE MAKE SURE ANYONE YOU FOLLOW, INCLUDING ME, RIGHTLY AND FAITHFULLY HANDLES GOD’S WORD AND HOLDS TO SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE.
Book Reviews

Book Review ~ Reviving New England

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I’ve said it dozens of times: I don’t write book reviews. But I’m fortunate that there are awesome, godly people out there who do, and who do a bang up job of it. So today I wanted to share a great review of the book Reviving New England. The review was written by my friend Rachel Williams over at danielthree18.com, and the book was written by my other friend, Nate Pickowicz, pastor, podcaster, and blogger extraordinaire. They are both lovely, doctrinally sound people I’m proud to know, so I’m certain you’ll enjoy both the review and the book.

Reviving New England 
(Why Women Ministry Leaders Should Read This Book)

by Rachel Williams

I ordered Nate’s book, Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America, and I sit down to enjoy a treatise on the history of liberalism in New England, and what pastors in New England need to do today to turn the churches back to Christ.

Instead, I spent the majority of my time reading chunks of the books out loud to my husband, whispering, “YES!,” and underlining massive sections of it, realizing that every woman who leads women’s ministries across the United States (and beyond) needs this book.

Today.

Pickowicz does start the book with a brief history of the rise (and fall) of Christianity in New England. For those of you not students of church history, he does an excellent job of making this information relevant to today and fast-paced. (Trust me, I’ve heard my fair share of less-than-exciting lectures on this topic. He does a great job keeping your interest.) However, the history lesson is brief, and this is where the book becomes, in my opinion, necessary for women’s ministry leaders today.

The rest of the book is written for pastors and centers on how to preach the Word of God. He does a masterful job of navigating the problems in so many pulpits and offering real practical solutions to guiding the church back to sound biblical principles.

So why do I think women’s ministry leaders need this?…

Click here to continue reading.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I be discerning about books?

mailbag

 

How do you evaluate a book (for instance if you know nothing about the author)? I have about half a bookshelf right now of books (both fiction and nonfiction) that I need to evaluate and I have no idea how to commence doing so. (The books range from children’s fiction to Bible study books and lots in between.)

A couple of the steps in this article would apply for any book: know your Bible and pray for wisdom as you research the book and author.

For Bible study, theology, or other non-fiction Christian books, I would vet the author pretty much the same way I described vetting teachers in the article. That will often be faster than reading the whole book. Also, go to Amazon and peruse all the other books the author has written. You might get a better idea of where the author stands, theologically, by reading all of his book titles and summaries. Many authors have an author page on Amazon, too. It’ll have a bio and customer reviews.

I don’t hold Christian fiction books to quite the same theological standard as non-fiction for discerning Christians who know their Bible really well (for example, see the section on Karen Kingsbury here). Some of them are really just clean “family friendly” fiction with the occasional cow pie of bad theology that you can “step over” as you’re reading, but some, such as The Shack are pretty egregious in their false doctrine. For Christian fiction, one quick “litmus test” that might be a possibility is to check out who’s endorsing it. If you flip to the back cover and see endorsements by a bunch of false teachers, it’s probably one to stay away from.

Asking around can help as well, especially with Christian books. Ask trusted friends if they’re familiar with the author or book and what they think of it. Join some theologically sound Facebook groups and ask about the book in the group.

For all books, another possible shortcut might be book reviews. Scads of bloggers review books. The key is finding bloggers and review sites whose opinions or theology you trust, and that may take a little time and effort. Tim Challies and Aaron Armstrong do a lot of trustworthy book reviews- mostly Christian non-fiction, but other genres on occasion. There are a lot of Christians on GoodReads that review all kinds of different genres. Finally, you might want to try a book summary web site like Books at a Glance. They’ll give you the “Cliff’s Notes” version of books.

If you go through all those “screening process” steps and still have books/authors you haven’t been able to vet, the only solution is to actually read the book and compare the concepts and statements in it to Scripture. Then you can write a review of it and post it on line for the next person who comes along wanting information about that book.

Let’s hear from you readers out there! Got a favorite book blog? A go to reviewer on GoodReads? Comment below!


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.