BOOK REVIEW: Unstuck: Your Life. God’s design. Real Change, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Written for the Christian whose faith seems stagnant, Unstuck, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross attempts to reach a very select audience.  Citing extensive research, a three-step plan for breaking out of a faith rut is written by two men who are part of the Back To the Bible ministry.  Further, the endorsement of Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is featured prominently on the cover and first pages of this book.

But even with all that, the book felt flat.  While I agreed in principle that the Bible, and engaging in study of it, is a vital means for revitalization of life, faith and relationships, this book did not inspire me in the execution of it.  Part one focused on the deadness: burnout, busyness, and the research behind suggesting the Bible was meant to combat these struggles.  I didn’t need a book to explain the research, in fact, if I had picked this up at a bookstore, it would have been because I wanted to get unstuck.  So Part two    described the process of the “Power of Four:” time with God, refreshed thru the Bible, recharged by it, and having a 2-way connection with Him.  Part three applied this process to personal experience.

The book extensively relies on, quotes from, and refers to research.  Just from my daily glance at Google news, I have become very skeptical of ‘research’ and while this may be the most researched method on the planet – it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before I picked up the book.  While I think the authors meant to simply establish their credibility, it made the book feel like required textbook reading, rather than an encouraging walk with a friend.  After reviewing so many of this genre of books, I am partial to those who do have a plan (this one is 45 days), but am cynical about research.  I am further cynical when chapter one is titled “Confessions of a Spiritual Loser,” as that just doesnt smack of the charisma needed to get me ‘unstuck’ from my current hang-up.  While I don’t want Tammy Fay Baker to smile at me from each page, simple honesty goes far with me.  The author’s story of his return to faith was moving, yet his continual use of this title suggested a lack of insight to me.  Leaving the faith, or lonely in the faith, is not a loser – it is a lost and hurting person out of touch with his Saviour.  And no research will help.  The 45 day plan might, but I found the Scripture suggested and questions to be unconnected at best, and left me with more questions when finished.  This would be very frustrating if read alone.  In a group, it might work.  (Where’s the research on that?)

On the flip side, the web site (gotandem.com)suggested in each chapter as a resource for further follow up, seemed well-done, engaging, and clear: daily Scripture delivered at your specified times, for the purpose of continual growth.  The authors did not cite the research involved in the creation of the web-site’s name, a story I would be curious to hear.  I would simply skip the entire book, and go to the site: the author’s stated purpose would be fulfilled (you would be getting into a lot of Scripture, in timely doses), and not have to wade thru pages of research and ineffective counsel on the very deep woes that bog down believers.

From personal experience, in the addictions, hangups and sins that enslave, being told to ‘read more Scripture’ or ‘go to church more’ simply angers – because it shows a lack of understanding of the enslavement.  A slave is not free to simply do those easy things: it is foreign, untrusted and means nothing.  Only when the enslaved reaches bottom, cries out to the Saviour, and has counsel and accountability is change possible.  No amount of reading or attending works when internally, the message can’t change, and the reader cant ‘hear’ what is being said.  That’s where this book misses the mark: it is written without concern for the audience.  Stuck people don’t want research, they want help.  Coating the help in statistics makes it that much more ineffective.  This would be the equivalent of a researcher extolling the numbers of hungry, the value of a sandwich to a homeless man on the street: just give him a sandwich for crying out loud, and keep your research!  Give him a hug, a shower, a smile – anything but this tome of boring (if well-meaning)facts.

In comparison, it is no surprise to me that The Purpose-Driven Life is a bestseller.  Read it instead, and the resources there are far more apt.

This review is in return for the copy of the book Bethany House provided me.  My opinions are my own.  No surprise there!

Resources:

Arnie Cole

Michael Ross

Back to the Bible

BOOK REVIEW: Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxford, A Memoir, chronicles the semesters spent in graduate studies at Oxford University for Carolyn Weber’s graduate work in Romantic Literature.  Along the journey, as the title hints, she is gently drawn to the same faith as C.S.Lewis.  The story reels you in with snippets from the history of Oxford’s hallowed halls, descriptions of England‘s jeweled beauty, stirring quotes caught from her studies, and her personal passage of heart.  An eloquent love story of the most elemental nature, told in first-person prose, Carolyn weaves her history into ‘His’-story to her.

Beginning with an agnostic faith, Carolyn embodies the self-sufficient American as she completes undergraduate work, and finds herself the surprised recipient of a full scholarship to Oxford.  Her interactions bring her into a vibrant group of students and professors, and as the Michaelmas, Christmastide, and Hilary terms unfold, so does her discovery of God in the midst of her simple life.  Chapter 13 brought me tears as Carolyn re-thinks even the relationships dear to her, including fiance, mother, alcoholic father at Christmas, and her sister’s unquestioning love.  Finally, in Chapter 21 my breath is as ragged as a runner while following her final sprint from doubt to the grace of belief.  Throughout, her vague romance with a truly faithful fellow student (TDH, as she names him) bewitched me into an eager desire for the epilogue.  Sadly, the ending is disjointed, hesitant and a misfit with the rest of the well-thought out pattern of the book.  My theory is that she wrote it 14 years later, and had lost the flow of its writing whilst living life.  Overall, I still give this book 5 stars, and have already bought it for a good friend of mine, who will appreciate the depth of faith, sparkling quotes and tender love of both Saviour and TDH found here.  I highly recommend it then, and my hat is off to Carolyn for this valuable and tender story of God’s hand, outstretched in our life.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review, as part of the Booksneeze review blogger group.  You can join also!  Just click on the button at your right.

BOOK REVIEW: The First Gardener, by Denise Hildreth Jones

Drawing upon the perspective of gardener and governor’s family in a historic Tennessee mansion, Denise Hildreth Jones‘ novel The First Gardener examines the faithful response to overwhelming tragedy.  Interspersed with humor, patience, and Southern pride, it is an easy read for such a difficult subject.

The family of Gray London, governor of Tennessee, fills the mansion with light faith, laughter, and familial joy.  Then an auto accident strikes, and all are affected, beginning with Gray’s wife Mackenzie, mother to Maddie, their only child.  In the wake of the accident, their faith, family, and even functioning are challenged – to exist, even to make it past this terror.  The joy of the book is the soulful gardener Jeremiah, who monitors both the plants of the mansion, and tends gently with the inhabitants by gifts from his greenhouse.  Mackenzie’s mother Eugenia, with her gaggle of elderly girlfriends, rounds out the support system with laughter and nearly impossible Southern spirit.

I found the novel thoughtfully written, the faith fully functional with deep trials, and the interactions sincere.  There were points that found me laughing out loud, and Jeremiah’s quiet reflections about the Lord were balm, while his idiomatic speech was a bit strained at times.  The first sentence, “The sides a my bologna gone and curled up in that cast-iron skillet when a pop a grease splattered out.”  I almost laid the book down.  I did also struggle with the trials, because the well-drawn characters made me hurt with them, and for them, but I thought the author’s conclusions were well drawn.  Pulling through infertility, pride, denial, depression, adultery, or death, Jones does not take the easy way out on any topic, and the journey is worth a few bumps.

As this is not her first book, you may enjoy the author’s website, which includes the first chapter to most of her prior writings.

I rate this book 3 stars, for enjoyable Christian contemporary fiction, and was pleased to receive a complimentary copy for which to complete my review from Tyndale Blogging Network, of Tyndale House Publishing.  You are welcome to join their team!