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Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree

Michael Guillen. Zondervan, $18.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-3103-4375-2

Religion and science aren't as different as we believe, Guillen (Can a Smart Person Believe in God?) argues. The former science editor for ABC discusses 10 questions that would seem to divide science and faith, showing instead that they often aren't far apart. Similarities can be found when asking questions such as "Was Jesus a man or god?," "Was the Earth created in a Big Bang?," or "How does time work?," by considering the laws and fundamental truths that have stood the test of time yet still lead to incomplete answers, Guillen proposes. To approach the gap between what can be submitted to empirical testing and what we believe without concrete evidence, Guillen explains different topics from biblical and scientific perspectives. Each chapter concludes with a section titled "What Does It Mean to You and Me?" in which he sums up his points to find common ground between science and religion. Can faith and science ever reach total agreement? Probably not, he writes, because science has effectively taken God out of the equation. Nevertheless, Guillen articulates how bringing faith into scientific study can reinvigorate inquiries into life's deepest mysteries. Agent: Wes Yoder, Ambassador. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark

Addie Zierman. Convergent, $14.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-60142-547-8

Blogger Zierman (When We Were on Fire) boldly reveals her struggles with faith, isolation, and depression in this memoir about packing up her minivan and taking her children on a two-week road trip from Minnesota to Florida. Having lost her connection to her Christian faith, Zierman decides to outdrive her troubles by visiting friends, giving book readings, and doing publicity interviews. The writing can be insightful and painful to read—"Imagine opening your Bible and finding it to be a concrete slab in your lap"—as her struggle to avoid internal darkness seems to permeate all her thoughts. These same obstacles make the memoir relatable, though, as she must balance her own internal turmoil with the needs of her children. At times, Zierman's attempts to wring drama from the mundane events of a well-planned publicity trip read as overwrought—as when she frequently alludes to her "complicated history" with men, then describes a visit with an old flirtation that remains platonic as "a victory over the flesh"—but the main story here is her renewed search for faith, not the promotion tour. Zierman's trip down South and back into the light, filled with refreshing, life-affirming moments, will satisfy readers looking for a partner in spiritual strife. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are

Leonce B. Crump, Jr. . Multnomah, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-60142-554-6

Crump, lead pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga., believes that modern "transient" society has eroded Christians' sense of place. Only by reconnecting with their communities can they "reflect the glory of God." He begins the book by explaining concepts of rejuvenation found throughout Christian scripture, unpacking the opening of Genesis and concluding with the resurrection of Jesus and his promise of earthly renewal in Revelation. Seeing many believers as distant from the problems of the world, content to concentrate inwardly, Crump advocates an active approach to God's word: "We have to be scripturally reprogrammed to see every day and every act as one that holds redemptive potential." To make his ideas more personal, Crump concentrates on Atlanta, with all of its benefits and scars, as his example of how to serve the needs of community. He details his own journey playing for the Atlanta Falcons, realizing his calling as a church planter, and bringing spiritual renovation to the city through the example of Christ. He explains that ministry requires taking ownership of both the congregation and the place of worship. For Crump, individuals can achieve a do-over no matter where they reside, no matter how many failures they have experienced, and no matter how far they've fallen. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World

Dennis Covington. Little, Brown, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-36861-2

Deftly interweaving personal tragedy with reporting forays into brutal conflicts, Covington (Salvation on Sand Mountain) delivers a superb, fast-paced memoir. During his own spiritual crisis, Covington determines to discover "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." In pursuit of answers about his own faith, Covington first travels to Juarez, Mexico, where he interviews a street preacher who takes in mental patients amid drug-cartel violence as well as the city's citizens who bury the horrendous number of murder victims. Eventually, he heads to the Middle East in search of Kayla Mueller, a 25-year-old Baptist aid worker from Arizona who was kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Swiftly sketched scenes of illegally crossing the Turkey-Syria border take readers into war-ravaged hospitals and refugee camps. Traumatically, Covington suffers a head injury from a vacuum bomb that leaves him with lasting brain injuries. He visits Mueller's parents to decipher how their understanding of God has changed as a result of their daughter's abduction by terrorists with whom their government will not negotiate. Reflecting the bleakness of the conflict in the Levant, Covington never finds Mueller, but headlines record her disturbing fate. What Covington discovers about Mueller's final weeks, when faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, rekindles a long-lost spark in his dark night. Covington's memoir is an essential, human account of the violent reactions to religious plurality in an increasingly polarized world. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Life Is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God

Sarah M. Johnson. Morgan James, $17.95 trade paper (198p) ISBN 978-1-63047-486-7

This debut memoir from Johnson, a marriage and family therapist, recounts the tragedy that tore her family apart and led to her spiritual and emotional turmoil. In August 2008, 19-year-old Johnson was on a volunteer Christian mission in Guatemala with her family. En route to the village where they were to build a school, their plane crashed. Johnson was unharmed, but her father and brother died and her mother spent months in a hospital burn unit. The present-tense narration is a gripping way of describing the incident itself, but it seems less appropriate for flashbacks to her Wisconsin upbringing with a drug-addicted father and her growing alcohol dependence during high school and college. The account of her Aunt Vicki’s slow death from cancer provides a strong counterpoint to her father and brother’s sudden deaths. The book ably recreates conversations with family members, friends, and a therapist, but expository sections mar the quality of the writing. The book begins quickly but never reaches a settled conclusion—especially concerning her mother’s health. Even so, the refrain “Your life was spared for a reason,” and Johnson’s journey out of alcoholism and into Christian faith, are truly inspirational. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Warrior Wife: Overcoming the Unique Struggles of a Military Marriage

Hillary Sigrist. WestBow, $5.99 e-book (112p) ISBN 978-1-5127-0640-6

Debut memoirist Sigrist reflects on her struggles as the wife of a former U.S. special operations sniper and provides encouragement for fellow Christian military wives in this thoughtful work. She is candid about the difficulties of being married to a military man but focuses on how the experience can strengthen her readers’ relationships both with their husbands and with God. Sigrist writes simply and intimately, as if talking to a best friend. She recognizes the singular hardships and often unacknowledged ways that military wives support their husbands and country. She also provides tips for dealing with deployments, PTSD, missed birthdays, and long-distance communication. Her advice is intended to comfort and provide fortitude to other military wives but is generally grounded in the idea that a military wife’s job is to support her husband. She contends that “God created woman to be a helper of man... and there is nothing more powerful to attend a man’s heart than to have the unwavering support of his woman.” Each chapter is structured around a particular issue specific to the military, but Sigrist’s guidance is applicable to any woman who strives for a marriage based on conservative Christian ideals. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State

Louis Grumet and John M. Caher. Chicago Review, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61373-500-8

Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, a 1994 Supreme Court case concerning a New York public school district created to accommodate the religious preferences of a faction of Hasidic Jews, gets a behind-the-scenes look in this blend of history and memoir. Grumet’s personal involvement with the case, as its main litigant, is both a blessing and a curse for this work. He provides curious readers with endless details about how he persuaded his fellow state school board members to sue, how he selected and worked with the primary lawyer, and what he discussed with New York politicians—including then-governer Mario Cuomo—concerning the laws and the legal battle. But his writing relies heavily on his own personal sympathies, fluctuating between thinly veiled dislike and near-sycophantic admiration for key players. The book’s narrative struggles to hold up under the weight of Grumet’s details and gossipy tone, and despite its important topic, it will likely only satisfy readers with an existing strong interest in the case. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Jewish Guide in the Holy Land: How Christian Pilgrims Made Me Israeli

Jackie Feldman. Indiana Univ., $28 ISBN 978-0-253-02137-3

This uneven hybrid of memoir and sociological study from Feldman, currently a lecturer in the sociology and anthropology department at Ben-Gurion University, examines Israel from the perspective of a tour guide. For over three decades, he guided Christian groups on pilgrimage to sites they’d previously only encountered in the pages of the New Testament. Feldman, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, brings an interesting perspective to this counterintuitive work, but too often the book becomes laden with jargon: “Moreover, the itinerary and the frame of the group tour foster a semiotic mode of looking. Even vernacular landscapes and cultures are constantly scanned for signs of difference from the home world or typicality.” Feldman’s chatty remarks to his charges lose something in the translation to print, and his lapses into flowery prose will frustrate scholars hoping for evidence-based insights. Feldman’s personal journey is unique and many of his insights are original, but the book’s overarching message never rises above the mundane: “As guides engage pilgrims in making places, they engage in remaking themselves.” (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Mother and Son: The Respect Effect

Emerson Eggerichs. Thomas Nelson, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8499-4821-3

Eggerichs (Love & Respect in the Family) believes that girls need love from their mothers, and boys need respect from them. This simple thesis is the jumping-off point for the latest parenting book from the pastor, speaker, and conductor of the Love and Respect Conference. Building off his GUIDES checklist (giving, understanding, instructing, disciplining, encouraging, supplicating) of parenting techniques for mothers, Eggerichs also suggests applying the CHAIRS checklist of boys’ needs: conquest, hierarchy, authority, insight, relationship, and sexuality. In chapters pegged to the CHAIRS concept, Eggerichs explains the mother-son relationship through scriptural exegesis as well as drawing on the work of several sociologists and personal testimonials. The book offers a glut of information and advice, though the writing can be dense and unwieldy. Eggerichs’s overall thesis seems to reinforce gender stereotypes; a chapter titled “An Empathetic Look at the Motherly Objections to Respecting a Boy” defends the book against charges of sexism. Eggerichs’s ideas and confident and commanding voice will appeal to conservative Christian parents who desire a new way of relating to male children. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Believers, Thinkers, and Founders: How We Came to Be One Nation Under God

Kevin Seamus Hasson. Image, $18 (224p) ISBN 978-0-3077-1818-1

In a time of increasing questions about God’s place in America, Hasson, founder and president emeritus of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provides a history of how the U.S. came to be—and still can be—called “one nation under God.” From Aristotle to the present, he examines how governments have acknowledged the existence of God, even if not all citizens share that belief. Hasson (The Right to Be Wrong) provides insight into the teachings and popular thought that helped shape the opinions of the Founding Fathers, who didn’t all agree on theology but who collectively believed that citizens’ rights in the new nation were bestowed by a creator. The phrase under God was not new to them: it predated the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock by 400 years. This concept has been affirmed by presidents in their inauguration speeches and by states adopting their own constitutions, and it has successfully survived legal challenges by those who would like to eradicate it from the pledge of allegiance. It is a phrase that remains relevant today as it suggests that our rights do not come from government alone, implying limits to government powers. Hasson formulates a strong argument for the philosophical—rather than theological—place of “under God” in American culture. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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