Review: The Gifts of Christmas

The Gifts of Christmas: 25 Joy-Filled Devotions for Advent 

By Sheila Walsh (Baker)

Finding a fresh Christmas devotional book each December can be challenging, but Sheila Walsh has met that challenge in The Gifts of Christmas: 25 Joy-filled Devotions for Advent as she offers new ways of sensing the joy and seeing God’s gracious gifts of the season. With an introduction that sets the stage, the recording artist and television host travels from her childhood in Scotland to her adopted home in Dallas and various places in-between, evoking memories and encouraging readers “to exchange weariness for wonder and heartache for hope.”

The volume naturally divides into six parts describing God’s gifts of expectancy, wonder, joy, grace, peace and hope. The sections contain devotionals built around familiar images of that first Christmas or meaningful aspects of celebrations today such as angels, Bethlehem, the manger, Christmas crackers, candy canes and family photos. Most begin with Scripture, though others start with carols.

The best-selling author fleshes out the devotionals with biblical truths, illustrations and commentary, historical notes and personal stories ranging from humorous to bittersweet. Of particular note are gleanings from Old Testament history by Rabbi Jason Sobel and Alfred Edersheim. Each of the daily readings offers opportunities to remember past Christmases while reflecting on the present and anticipating the future. The 25 days close with “The Real Gift of Christmas,”  the author’s recollection of reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time, the story of Zacchaeus and the carol “Joy to the World.”

Available as an audiobook and in hardcover, each has advantages. Listening to Sheila Walsh read brings Scottish flavor while the print contains lovely illustrations of kraft-paper-wrapped packages, red striped string and gold ornaments with subtle changes in each section’s art to reinforce the theme. Consider purchasing both—one to enjoy and one to joyfully gift a friend. That’s what I did.

Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president

Texas WMU and Baptist General Convention of Texas


Review: Christian Philosophy as a Way of Life

Christian Philosophy as a Way of Life: An Invitation to Wonder

By Ross D. Inman (Baker Academic)

Ross D. Inman teaches philosophy of religion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he rejects any suggestion the subject belongs only to the ivory towers of academia. Instead, Inman views Christian philosophy as good for what ails us—individually and as a society. It offers remedies for moral sickness, metaphysical vertigo and distorted vision.

At one level, Christian Philosophy as a Way of Life serves as a solid introduction to the philosophy of religion. Certainly, Inman provides a good overview of how Christian philosophy relates to the classical disciplines of ethics, logic, metaphysics, aesthetics and epistemology. He helps connect the dots linking Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas.

However, Inman believes Christian philosophy should not be limited to classroom study. He asserts it provides a map to help Christians find meaning and follow truth-directed practices. He insists the Christian disciplines of a philosophical life—solitude, silence, meditation, self-examination, spiritual friendships and existential rest—have therapeutic value.

Furthermore, Inman believes philosophy possesses value in and of itself, because it helps us fulfill our God-given nature as meaning-seekers. Christian philosophy provides a framework to help believers discover—or recapture—a sense of wonder. It helps Christ-followers understand and focus upon what is good, true and beautiful in light of the revelation of God in Jesus.

Inman invites readers to rekindle that sense of awe and wonder. It’s an invitation worth accepting.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard

Review: Mama Bear Apologetics

Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies

Edited by Hillary Morgan Ferrer (Harvest House Publishers)

Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies addresses ideologies running rampant in cultural American thought: new spirituality, pluralism, self-helpism, feminism, Marxism, relativism, naturalism, skepticism, postmodernism and emotionalism.

As American culture becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity and a biblically based worldview, our children are caught in the middle of conflicting ideologies. Mama Bear Apologetics maintains: “We need to prepare our children so they aren’t left unprotected for the future. The greatest protection we can give our kids—to equip them to face the cultural lies head-on while remaining gracious, loving, and winsome” (p 17).

This collection of essays presents each ideology’s teaching and refutes each with biblical truth. Each essay’s author provides age-appropriate tips for teaching children (preschool to high-school aged) to identify anti-scriptural teaching and how to defend against it using the Bible.

Written in a quirky, engaging style, each chapter allows the contributors’ personalities to shine as they reinforce their points with real-life examples. Introducing a thought thread woven throughout the book, editor Hillary Morgan Ferrer reminisces about eating lots of beef as a Texas native, learning at an early age to chew the meat and spit out the gristle. She equates this “chew and spit” method to sifting through the messages our kids receive in search of biblical truth, and spitting out anything that contradicts the truth of the Bible.

The book provides plenty of Scripture interwoven with relevant daily life examples. Just for fun, look for the way that a soda dispenser relates to progressive Christianity. These types of tangible images throughout the chapters help Mama Bears to take the apologetics conversations with their kids anywhere, with a concrete image that cements the topic and truth in their minds.

As an additional resource, the authors include a useful list of books for further reading that correspond to each chapter topic. Inquisitive mamas want to know as much as possible to protect and prepare their children for the ideologies they will encounter even as early as kindergarten. Mama Bear Apologetics gives parents the foundational tools they need to begin educating their children early.

Erica Bengel, student

Dallas Theological Seminary 

Review: Wounded Tiger

Wounded Tiger

By T. Martin Bennett (Dynamis Books)

War doesn’t spring from the ground on its own but grows from the seed of past actions. World War II was no different and just as complex.

T. Martin Burnett’s narrative of people caught up in that complexity begins in 1922 and is told largely from the Japanese perspective, humanizing the war in a way Americans often don’t encounter.

During years of growing animosity between the United States and Japan, Mitsuo Fuchida committed himself to serve his emperor. His dedication led to his commanding the surprise air assault on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

During those same preceding years, the Covell family served as Baptist missionaries in Japan. When Americans no longer were welcome there, the Covells made the fateful decision to relocate to the Philippines. Meanwhile, their oldest daughter Peggy was away at college in upstate New York.

Jacob DeShazer was fed up with the struggle to make a dollar and threw in his lot with the U.S. military, eventually becoming a bombardier. When duty called and he and his fellow airmen agreed to a dangerous mission over Tokyo, Jake’s life changed forever.

Bennett weaves Fuchida’s, DeShazer’s and Peggy Covell’s stories together through the battles, prejudices and fears of World War II’s Pacific Theater. He recounts the full scope of the war over hundreds of action-packed and fast-paced pages that just keep turning. By the end, each person encounters Christ’s redemption in individual and interrelated ways.

Though the narrative is dramatized, family and friends of the main characters vouch for the accuracy of Bennett’s account. Their personal effects inform the story throughout. Hundreds of illustrations—photos, drawings, maps, letters, official correspondence and newspaper clippings—anchor the historicity of the narrative and bring it to life.

As a story of war, the narrative is not always gentle. Bennett effectively conveys war’s many brutalities, as well as the horrors of the atomic bomb. Holding true to the time, he voices the disparaging view Americans had of the Japanese, a feature whose redemption only just begins in the closing pages.

Bennett first self-published Wounded Tiger in 2015 hoping it would become a major motion picture. A third edition is due out Oct. 24.

Eric Black, executive director, publisher, editor
Baptist Standard

Review: Lottie Moon and the Silent Bell

Lottie Moon and the Silent Bell 

By Rosalie Hall Hunt (Courier)

Long-time Baptists likely have heard the name “Lottie Moon” spoken in reverent tones. Many have given to the missions offering that bears the name of the woman who served in China from 1873 to 1912. Some know she suggested collecting funds for foreign missions, but who was this woman really? In Lottie Moon and the Silent Bell, Rosalie Hall Hunt offers a selection of vignettes that profile the missionary sometimes described as “a Baptist saint.”

As a “missionary kid” in the country herself, Hunt draws not only from historical documents written in both English and Chinese, but also from stories older friends told her. Set in the years just prior to Lottie Moon’s death, three young girls—Marion, Rachel and Edith Newton—visit “Aunt Lottie,” as MK’s call their parents’ colleagues, and listen to her stories just as they did in real life.

The girls already knew Charlotte Digges Moon was born into a prominent Virginia family and grew up on Viewmont plantation. She received an education equal to the boys in her family, including a degree from the female counterpart of the University of Virginia and one of the first master’s degrees granted a woman in the South.

She also possessed a mischievous streak. With a twinkle in her eye, Aunt Lottie relates her April Fool’s prank at Hollins Institute when she secretly silenced the bell that signaled every activity from wake-up to lights out. She explains how God not only saved her when she was a religious skeptic, but also called her to serve in China, something possible only later for a single woman.

Aunt Lottie shares about the Chinese being afraid of her as a “foreign devil” until she entices the children with her cookies, which they and later their parents couldn’t resist. As she learned the language and shared Bible stories, the petite—4 foot 7 inches or maybe shorter—missionary explains she became known instead as “the heavenly book visitor.”

The nine engaging stories Lottie tells detail her opening schools for girls, allowing their brothers to attend provided the sisters’ feet were unbound and adopting Chinese customs. She describes moving into the interior, sleeping on the traditional kang (bed-stove), telling women and children about Christ with men listening from a distance and writing countless letters home. She relates enduring loneliness, urging missionary furloughs, sharing food with widows, and facing famine and fighting—which stopped one day while the respected missionary passed by. Each account presents glimpses into Lottie Moon’s heart and her love for the Chinese people.

Written for older children, the fascinating narratives will also appeal to teens and adults. Generous photographs and maps add interest. Each chapter concludes with “the rest of the story” that provides context and ends with an extra-credit section suggesting ways to dig deeper into Lottie Moon’s life and the historical period. Aunt Lottie’s cookie recipe is a tasty bonus.

As Rosalie Hall Hunt does in her other biographies, the retired missionary brings Lottie Moon to life by offering insights into her struggles, secrets, successes and spirit. In so doing, she strengthens Lottie Moon’s legacy as a woman who followed God’s call and gave her all.

As Lottie sailed home to America, she slipped into her heavenly home on Christmas Eve 1912, in Kobe Harbor, Japan, singing her favorite hymn, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” May we be so faithful.

Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president
Texas WMU and Baptist General Convention of Texas

Review: Listening to Scripture

Listening to Scripture: An Introduction to Interpreting the Bible

By Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker Academics)

Most hermeneutics textbooks could carry the same subtitle as this one. Few honestly could carry its main title, “Listening to Scripture,” but this book earns it.

Craig Bartholomew believes both the scholarly academic examination of Scripture and the devotional reading of the Bible are valuable, and he rejects any suggestion the two approaches are mutually exclusive.

Bartholomew adopts an approach similar to N.T. Wright’s in terms of viewing the Bible as a grand narrative drama in multiple acts—and that’s a commendation, not a criticism. While he acknowledges the merits of various types of biblical criticism, Bartholomew essentially urges readers not to focus so singularly on the leaf of a single tree that they lose sight of the majestic forest. Any encounter with Scripture should lead the audience to hear what God is saying, he insists.

While all of Listening to Scripture offers rich insights, perhaps its most beneficial content appears at the end of each chapter. In addition to discussion questions and a suggested bibliography for further reading, the author concludes each chapter with an exercise in lectio divina—an ancient practice of reading the Bible meditatively, savoring each word and engaging the imagination.

Baker Academics undoubtedly envisioned this book as a textbook or supplementary reading for university or seminary classes. No doubt, it will serve well in that role. However, any serious lay student of Scripture who is willing to engage both head and heart in reading the Bible also would benefit from Listening to Scripture—and listening to God.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard

Review: Surprised by Doubt

Surprised by Doubt: How Disillusionment Can Invite Us into a Deeper Faith

By Joshua D. Chatraw and Jack Carson (Brazos Press)

Authors Joshua Chatraw and Jack Carson have written a Christian apologetics book for people who typically don’t like books about apologetics—of which I am one. They begin by acknowledging deconstruction—critically looking at inherited faith and asking hard questions about it—is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can lead a person out of the narrow confines of parochialism and into the open air of historic Christian belief.

Chatraw and Carson use the metaphor of a house to describe Christianity. C.S. Lewis and others have used the same word-picture to talk about Christianity as a single house with many rooms—divided by walls of specific practices or denominational emphases but united under the same roof by a common set of basic beliefs. But Chatraw and Carson acknowledge many who feel the need to deconstruct their faith grew up not in a room, but in the cramped space of the attic, where questioning the walls is perceived as calling into doubt the reality of the house itself.

The authors urge those who are rebelling against “attic Christianity” to resist the temptation to jump out a window and find another house. Instead, they encourage those who have lived stooped over in the attic, believing it was the whole house, to move into the broad expanse of the main floor. They urge seekers to examine the historic foundation and load-bearing walls of the house that has Jesus Christ at its center. They challenge doubters to explore the central doctrines that historically have characterized the Christian faith.

As a starting point for those who are new to the mystery of spiritual experience, they suggest participation in holy moments such as holding a newborn baby, celebrating a wedding and attending a funeral. For those who struggle to find their own words to pray, they prescribe praying the Psalms. They encourage seekers to “practice” their way through doubt, allowing God’s Spirit room to work.

Surprised by Doubt is written in a conversational tone that is neither condescending nor pedantic. It is a remarkably helpful book that treats honest doubt as a potential step toward faith, not necessarily a retreat from faith.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard

Review: All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir

By Beth Moore (Tyndale House)

Memoirs may be the most challenging of all literary genres. Although autobiographical, memoirs don’t cover a whole life but use stories to share a life theme. Still, the author faces temptations to embellish, revise history, gloss over frailties and tell less than the truth.

In All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir, Beth Moore’s honesty springs from deep commitments to her heavenly Father and her family. Although she waited until her parents were gone, the best-selling author sought the blessing of her husband, daughters, and siblings before recounting their intertwined stories that evoke a host of emotions but demonstrate God’s abiding faithfulness.

The book begins with a road trip as 6-year-old Beth describes the adventures of her mom, dad, maternal grandmother and all five Green children—Sandra, Wayne, Gay, Beth and Tony—in their Volkswagen van headed from Arkansas to Florida.  Amid their humorous camping attempt, Beth adds observations from adulthood as she does throughout the stories.

Often in chronological order, the author shares pieces of her life in rich descriptions of people, places and feelings as she invites readers to experience her laughter, tears, joy, pain and forgiveness. Glimpses show Beth’s baptism and love for Arkadelphia’s First Baptist Church, unspeakable things no dad should do, her mother’s depression, and Gay’s phone confrontation of their father’s “friend” after finding a hidden letter in his movie theatre office.

Relocation to Houston left Beth with deep loss, not just of home but of her two best Arkadelphia friends who died in an accident moments after she told them good-bye. The teen couldn’t stand to give up church. So, when her parents ceased attending, the high school student found her own.

Scholarships made college possible at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) where Beth thrived academically and socially. The summer after her freshman year, her church needed someone to take the 6th grade girls to GA camp. The coed volunteered, and there while brushing her teeth, she clearly “sensed the Lord’s presence.” She immediately knew “nothing at all was different … but everything had changed.” God had called the 18-year-old to a lifetime of ministry and hunger for his word.

At Southwest Texas, Beth fell in love with Keith Moore, who brought his own tragedies to their marriage. The memoir details their ups and downs, the births of their daughters, and her spiritual growth with mentors like Marge Caldwell and John Bisagno, who took the former college dance team member from exercise/Bible study instructor to Bible teacher, partnership with Lifeway, Living Proof Ministries, Keith’s near-fatal fishing accident and years-long recovery, and finally, agonizing censure and heart-wrenching departure from the denomination she loved from birth.

As she began the memoir, so Beth Green Moore ends with a road trip, one that brings full circle God’s faithfulness in unknotting Keith’s knotted-up life and Beth’s as well.

Consider purchasing both audio and print copies of All My Knotted-Up Life. Beth Moore’s voice on the audio expresses feelings as only the writer can. But don’t miss the 8 pages of photographs in the print version. Either way, you’ll gain insights into God and the Bible teacher’s heart.

Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president

Texas WMU and Baptist General Convention of Texas


Review: Can You Just Sit With Me?

Can You Just Sit With Me?

By Natasha Smith (InterVarsity Press)

Books about grief fill library and bookstore shelves. Some are sentimental and superficial. Some are cold and technical. Some are hammered out in the crucible of personal experience and offer helpful suggestions to others who are grieving. Natasha Smith’s book fits into the latter category.

The title—Can You Just Sit With Me?—is a three-fold invitation.

First, it is the author’s invitation to the reader to sit by her as she shares insights from her own experiences. Natasha Smith’s early acquaintance with grief came when she became pregnant as a teenager and made the unselfish—but deeply painful—choice to give up the baby for adoption. Later, she experienced the loss of two sisters, Angie at age 32 and Sharon at 42. She went through the unspeakable heartache of delivering a stillborn baby. She lost her father to cancer and a 28-year-old nephew to a gunshot wound. Smith transparently reveals her own faith-informed journey of grief.

The title also is God’s invitation to all who are going through grief. God does not intend for anyone to suffer alone. We worship a God who is big enough to handle the full range of a grieving person’s honest emotions. We worship a Father who knows what it is to experience the death of a beloved Son. We worship a Savior who showed us it is all right to weep when a friend dies, and who even knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by God. We worship a God who gives his Holy Spirit to us as the Comforter.

Finally, the title is an instructive invitation to readers to come alongside a person who is grieving and offer the gift of presence. Sit and listen attentively—not judging, not offering advice, and not trying to “fix” the person experiencing grief. Just sit and be fully present.

Each chapter ends with a suggested healing exercise for a person who is experiencing grief, along with an appropriate Bible verse and a prayer. This is the kind of book a pastor, deacon or care-group leader could offer to a grieving individual. InterVarsity Press will release it Sept. 26. It’s not too early to order a copy in advance.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard

Review: King: A Life

King: A Life

By Jonathan Eig (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Readers who think they already know everything about Martin Luther King Jr. will discover new insights about one of the most influential figures of the 20th century in this comprehensive new biography. Jonathan Eig paints a richly textured portrait of a complicated and conflicted man who answered a divine calling that eventually led to his death by assassination.

In the most complete biography of King to emerge in the past three and a half decades, Eig begins at the beginning—with his family of origin, childhood and adolescence. Without falling into the trap of armchair psychoanalysis, he presents enough evidence to let readers draw their own conclusions about the lasting influence—positive and negative—the formidable figure of “Daddy King” had on his son’s life and ministry.

Some King biographers have focused almost exclusively on the personal, political or religious aspects of their subject. Eig skillfully weaves together the sometimes-contradictory threads of King’s life into a magnificent tapestry.

He gives overdue attention to Coretta Scott King and her own contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. He explores King’s complex relationship with President Lyndon Johnson, from their close partnership in passing key civil rights legislation to their sharp differences over the war in Vietnam.

He also grants due regard to theologians who helped shape the ministry and personal faith of his subject—particularly Rauschenbusch, Tillich and Niebuhr—while noting the points at which King differed from each in his understanding and application of the gospel.

Eig deals honestly with the high points and low points of King’s life. The list of individuals Eig interviewed fills three and half pages, and his documentation includes not only published materials, but also newly discovered archival sources. With access to previously classified FBI files and other documents, Eig frankly acknowledges King’s moral failures, notably in terms of marital infidelity, while also pointing to the burden of guilt King carried for his shortcomings.

Above all, Eig points to King’s deep faith in a personal God revealed in Jesus Christ, his unswerving commitment to nonviolence as taught in the Sermon on the Mount, his convictions about the transforming power of unconditional love, and his clear sense of God’s calling on his life.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard

Review:  The Evangelical Imagination

The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis

By Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press)

Stories shape us. Images influence us. Metaphors matter. And when it comes to evangelicals, they not only affect how we view and understand the culture around us, but also how we make an impact on it—for better or worse.

Karen Swallow Prior—an evangelical Christian, a scholar specializing in Victorian literature and an astute societal observer—explores the cultural trappings of evangelicalism. From Warner Sallman’s ubiquitous Head of Christ to the nostalgic prints of Thomas Kinkade, “Painter of Light,” she points out how much of evangelicals’ penchant for sentimentality and domesticity find their roots in the Victorian era. In fact, she concludes much of what evangelicals assume to be biblical truth actually is Victorian culture.

The Evangelical Imagination piercingly notes how evangelicalism often has elevated empire-building as exemplary—whether national expansionism or the growth of an individual entrepreneur’s wealth and influence. After all, evangelicals easily rationalize greater influence and expansion means greater opportunity for evangelism. Revivalists and missionaries in the 19th century, evangelicals in the 20th century and their Christian nationalist offspring in the 21st century quite willingly answered Rudyard Kipling’s invitation to “Take up the White Man’s burden.”

Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches stories about the virtues of hard work and diligence continue to shape the evangelical consciousness. Beginning with the Puritan work ethic and its tendency to view material success as evidence of election by God, Prior connects the dots to consumer-oriented churches and a prosperity gospel that considers financial success as a blessing God owes to the faithful. So, evangelical heroes tend to be entrepreneurial megachurch pastors, wealthy televangelists and prominent leaders of parachurch organizations—along with “born again” celebrities and pandering politicians who seek evangelical approval.

The Evangelical Imagination challenges many of the underlying and unspoken assumptions of evangelical Christianity. Prior challenges readers to measure their faith by Scripture and to follow Christ, rather than conform to the expectations of an evangelical subculture.

Ken Camp, managing editor

Baptist Standard


Review: Joyful Sorrow

Joyful Sorrow: Breaking Through the Darkness of Mental Illness

 By Julie Busler (Iron Stream Media)

According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide ranks as the 11th leading cause of death in the United States but 2nd for those ages 10 to 14 and 20 to 34. Annually, more than 48,000 individuals—one person every 11 minutes—commit suicide. Another 1.7 million attempt to take their own lives, and an estimated 12.3 million seriously contemplate the action.

Christians are not immune. Julie Busler, Oklahoma Woman’s Missionary Union president, well understands those statistics. She lived them, as she details in Joyful Sorrow: Breaking Through the Darkness of Mental Illness.

On the outside, Busler’s world seemed filled with flawless light. She and her husband Ryan served as international workers in Turkey, having previously lived in Canada, Mexico and Germany. Their marriage, their children, her home and her ministry appeared picture-perfect. Her mother-in-law posted glowing social media compliments after a visit, but the 30-something mother of four lived secretly “entrenched in darkness.” Her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer when the girl was 8, died a “graphic” death when she was 19. Her father subsequently committed suicide.

Eventually, Busler’s mental breakdown led to a Turkish psychiatric hospital and a diagnosis of severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The family returned to Oklahoma, where Busler grew to believe she had become a “burden to her family” and felt suicide was the “courageous choice.” Hospitalization, science, counseling and the light of Scripture, particularly Psalms 88 and 23, and the prayers of Jesus and Nehemiah, subsequently led her to stability and light, although her journey isn’t always smooth.

Secrecy and stigma continue to plague individuals suffering with mental illness, particularly Christians and those in ministry. As Busler pondered the short, sad letter she nearly left behind with her attempted suicide, God interrupted her thoughts. “I could either write a short note of despair or a whole book of hope.”

Joyful Sorrow is the author’s message of hope, bringing joy to others from her sorrow. Read it. Learn from it. Share it. You’ll be thankful you did.

Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president
Texas WMU and Baptist General Convention of Texas