Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Books for April 2012

The Pleasure of My CompanyThe Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great little book! While it starts off a bit quirky, it is always entertaining; there are several places where the plot will surprise you (pleasantly).

Steve Martin artfully explores the life of a man with some challenges due to mental illnesses, and how he seeks and finds a “normal” life. With the same quality of story-telling as his other work, Shopgirl, but less suggestive content (not that Shopgirl was particularly salacious)— in other words, mostly clean language and only a little PG-13 or R-rated content.

I continue to be impressed with the genius and creativity of Steve Martin— comedian, actor, art collector, recording musician, producer, and, yes, author. I recommend The Pleasure of My Company highly.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian ConvictionsTactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard about this book on an interview that the author did on the White Horse Inn over a year ago. At the outset, I confess that the description of the book and what the interview would cover made me skeptical— it sounded like maybe the Shamwow guy does heavy-handed, debate-style evangelism. Yuck.

I was wrong, and I was glad I kept an open mind long enough to hear the interview. Likewise with the book. Despite the awful job that the publisher did in presenting the book, it’s not a bad read at all.

Greg Koukl basically employs some elementary logic in discussing how to effectively diffuse arguments against the faith. He offers a handful of useful techniques tactics for exposing poor thinking and turning the discussion toward the truth. I appreciate his emphasis on a diplomatic, friendly, and conversational approach, and I’m grateful for his frequent reminders of how the ethos of the interaction matters.

My biggest quibble with Tactics is how Koukl seems to conflate convictions (even biblically-based convictions) with the Gospel. For example, his first sample “encounter” is a discussion about abortion and the pro-life position. Obviously this is a subject that most Christians have strong views about, and it is an important topic for seeking serious and winsome dialogue. But let’s be clear: someone can become a Christian without “toeing the party line” about abortion, and at the same time someone switching their views to “pro-life” doesn’t necessarily move them any closer to understanding (or embracing) the Gospel.

Now, it’s true that some issues are inevitably associated with Christianity, and some conversations in which one may hope to discuss Gospel truth may get sidetracked by these issues. I’m not denying that being pro-life or other biblically-derived positions may be obstacles for some. My complaint is that Koukl described a conversation in which he challenged (successfully) the pro-choice views of a stranger, and that was the only topic that he discussed with her— then he compliments himself for having presented the faith effectively. This is my point: being pro-life is connected with Christianity, but it isn’tthe faith.

There are other occasions in the book where it seems like Koukl wants a soapbox, or at least to be thought someone with clever rejoinders to peripheral objections. It’s too bad, really, because without these the book would be a pretty great discussion about effective apologetics conversations.

(Koukl doesn’t make a clear distinction between evangelism and apologetics, and he occasionally uses Scripture out of context, but I won’t harp on these. Be aware of them, though, if you’re considering reading the book.)

Here’s another time when I wish GoodReads would allow half-star ratings, as I would prefer 3.5 stars. I DID like the book a good bit, even with the quibbles above.

Coach: Empower Others to Effectively Lead a Small GroupCoach: Empower Others to Effectively Lead a Small Group by Joel Comiskey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There’s definitely a need for books in this category on the market. While plenty of books are out on small groups generally, most of them are geared toward the same niche: entry-level and lower mid-level small group leadership, often with the same tired advice and approach re-packaged in one more pastor’s clever, alliterative terminology. Books on advanced leadership for small groups are rare. Books on leading leaders— coaching, in Comiskey’s parlance— are rarer still.

So in that sense I’m grateful for this book. It’s certainly better than nothing, and there’s some good bare-bones advice on coaching small group leaders to be found. If you’ve never had leaders under you, and you have no real idea how to supervise, encourage, train, or hold accountable those who are hands-on in ministry, you’ll find Comiskey’s take on the subject useful. (In that way, too, the advice he offers is not limited to small group leaders; it would easily export to any leadership scenario.)

Most people who have been in a staff ministry role, however— or who have been simply supervising other leaders in any capacity— for more than a couple of years will probably have intuited much of Comiskey’s take on the subject. Is there more beyond this one? Frankly, I’m doubtful, though I hope I’m wrong.

My sense is that Comiskey either works for a very large (mega?) church, or he has in the past, and he has new coaches coming on-board regularly. If that’s the case, then his approach in this book makes sense to me.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad book, and (apart from the typical few Scripture verses taken out of context) there wasn’t anything that I really disagreed with him about. I didn’t find this book that helpful, but I’m sure others might.

View all my reviews

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