I don’t write book reviews. I don’t write book reviews. I don’t write book reviews. Oh, and did I mention-
I don’t write book reviews.
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.
Additionally, although I love to read, I have very little time to do so, and unsolicited books would stack up and probably be out of print before I could get around to reading and reviewing them. So, while I’m honored and humbled that anybody out there might want my opinion on her book, my plate is full and there’s no space for book reviews right now.
That said, I’ve recently come across two books that I’d like to tell you a little bit about.
Stepping Stone: Finding Life and Love in a Foreign Land by Stacy Dyck
If you have a phenomenal memory, you might recall that Stacy wrote an awesome guest post for me a while back called What Can I Do About the Refugees? After eleven years on the mission field, Stacy and her family have recently come back to the United States. Stepping Stone is Stacy’s first book, and recounts her foray into missions as a young, single missionary in Hungary.
I’ve read books and articles about missionaries and their experiences before. Some of them are pretty dry. Not this one. Stacy’s book reads more like a newsy e-mail from a good friend. You’ll learn about the interesting people she met in Hungary, both those who responded to the gospel and those who rejected it. You’ll get an unromanticized window into what missions work is really like, what it’s like to live in a former Communist country, and the delightful, sometimes quirky, customs, culture, and food of Hungary. (My only complaint about this book is that there are no recipes to go along with the mouth-watering dishes Stacy describes. I want that paprika chicken recipe, girl!)
Stepping Stone is a great read for anyone, but I think it could be especially helpful for young single women (and their worried parents) who are considering going into missions. It would also be a perfect fit for getting your women’s group interested in, and participating in, missions.
(Standard caveat: Please note, Stepping Stone and the article she wrote for me are the only writings of Stacy’s that I’ve examined, so this is only an endorsement of this particular book. As with anyone else, I would not endorse anything she might somewhere have said or written that conflicts with Scripture and/or my statement of faith.)
First Love: Embracing a Love that Lasts by Camille Cates and Sue Liljenberg
I badly wanted to give this study a full throttle endorsement. If you think it’s hard to find doctrinally sound studies for grown women, just try finding one aimed at youth aged girls.
First Love is not a Bible study, but, rather, a discipleship guide. This means it isn’t a study of a particular book or passage of the Bible, it’s more like the written version of what to teach your teenage daughter when (or before) she comes to you and says, “I’m cutting/tempted to sleep with my boyfriend/struggling with unforgiveness. What does the Bible say about that?” It is, by necessity, both topical and practical, and that’s not a bad thing.
Now, before I go any further, it should be noted that I did not read this entire 279 page (several months’ worth of lessons) study word for word. I read about the first 70 pages word for word, as well as several other sections that looked either promising or troublesome. The rest of the book, I skimmed, so there are probably a lot of things I missed. Also, this is the student book. I did not read the leader’s guide nor view or read any of the supplementary videos or suggested books, so my thoughts here are only about the parts I actually read.
There were many wonderful things about this book. The theology, for the most part (we’ll get to the other parts in a minute), is rock solid. The first unit lays the foundation with a several weeks long study of the gospel, starting with Creation and the Fall, and moving on to the cross and salvation. The remaining two units deal with sanctification issues, both biblical (prayer, forgiveness, fruit of the Spirit, etc.) and practical (sex, eating disorders, suicide, etc.) One theological aspect I especially appreciated is that a number of times throughout the course of the book, the authors made a point of saying something like, “If this sinful action/attitude/worldview characterizes your life, you need to go back and examine whether or not you’re really saved.”
There were three features of the layout of the lessons that I really liked. First, the text includes supplemental videos (free, on-line) of sermons, talks, and music to undergird what’s being taught. Next, the questions in the question and answer parts of the lesson are open ended and designed to get the reader to study Scripture and think. Finally, there is a small journaling section at the end of most lessons. This study does journaling right. The reader is asked to write what she has learned from the lesson, write a prayer, write down sins she needs to confess, etc. It’s not mystical contemplative journaling.
Unfortunately, while the theology was very good for the most part, there were several biblical problems I felt I couldn’t overlook.
First – while I felt the authors strived to ensure this book teaches sound doctrine – there were a few instances in which Scripture was mishandled. (I am confident this was not intentional, just some sloppy theology that needs to be cleaned up.) Page 79 features the classic misuse of Jeremiah 29:11, taking the verse out of context and applying it to us today instead of to Old Testament Israel. On page 141, in the section about healthy eating, we’re given the Rick Warren “Daniel Diet” explanation of why Daniel & Co. asked for vegetables and water in lieu of the king’s food (because vegetables and water were healthier, not because they were seeking to honor God by obeying Levitical law).
Perhaps most troubling was the section (p. 212-213) discussing how we can listen for God’s voice outside of Scripture. Although I would like to believe that the authors merely meant to convey that Christians are led by the Holy Spirit via Scripture He brings to mind, conviction of sin, circumstances, wisdom, etc., there are too many words and phrases, such as “listen,” “the Holy Spirit can speak to you,” “if you can only hear His voice through the written Word,” etc., to rightly understand their meaning this way. Several Scriptures, including Jeremiah 33:3, John 10, and Psalm 46:10, are taken out of context, misunderstood, mishandled, and misapplied in this section.
The second main doctrinal problem with this study is its lack of discernment about the Christian resources (both in the supplemental videos and suggested additional reading) it recommends and quotes. Now you’re not going to find Joyce Meyer’s or Benny Hinn’s or Kenneth Copeland’s names, and you will see names like John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, and Paul Washer, but you’ll also see quotes, videos, and recommended books by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Max Lucado, the Blackabys (Experiencing God), Craig Groeschel, Francis Chan*, Mark Driscoll*, Tullian Tchividjian*, and others who are at least questionable in their doctrine and/or behavior, if not full on false teachers (*In fairness, I believe the major problems with these three may have arisen after this book was published in 2013.) I feel certain that the authors simply don’t know the doctrinal problems with these personalities nor that they needed to vet them before recommending them, but this is still a problem that needs to be corrected. What gain is it if we teach young women biblical views on sex and eating disorders yet send them into the arms of false teachers such as Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer?
Despite these two flaws, I still believe this study could be a useful tool in the hands of a teacher who is very biblically knowledgeable and discerning. I would not put the student book into the hands of impressionable young girls who don’t already know their Bibles extremely well, but a good teacher could weed out the problematic parts and use the vast majority of the rest of the material as the foundation of her own lessons.