Here are a couple of short reviews of books I’ve read recently. I was a bit surprised that I rather enjoyed reading both books (surprised not because I expected them to be bad books but because neither author fits neatly or cleanly into my current context). Reflecting on this a bit, I think what I appreciated most is that neither book was pushing for a particular method of ministry or about how to do church better/best/biblically. Instead, each is simply a seasoned pastor sharing a piece of his heart. I have felt that lacking a bit in my life in recent years and appreciated each of these books for their humble offering of wisdom and insight.
The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels
I’ve read and appreciated a number of books by Bill Hybels in the past (particularly on the topics of prayer and leadership) but have not read much of his recent work. His most recent book, The Power of a Whisper, is subtitled “Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond.” Through the book, Hybels recounts stories of God’s faithfulness through whispered promptings. While the book is full of biblical illustrations and references, it is largely a narrative of personal reflections telling the ways God’s whispers have comforted and directed the author throughout his ministry. While Willow Creek’s success has been attributed to a number of factors (ranging from leadership and strategy to suburban cultural norms and American consumerism), Hybels attributes Willow’s success to these whispers and promptings from God. The chapters journey through the various ways Hybels has experienced God’s voice, whether in ministry, parenting, vocational discernment, crisis, or in large-scale social issues like poverty, racism, etc.
I appreciated the honesty and vulnerability it can take to write a book like this, as it is definitely strange to claim reliance on divine whispers in a culture of skepticism (not to mention the frequency that God’s voice is the cited reason for actions that are more often than not caused by mental illness). The chapter on “filtering” these whispers and promptings to discern whether they come from God was helpful, although basic enough to be summarized well in a two-page appendix. I wish that Hybels would have mentioned the role that a broader range of spiritual disciplines (such as silence, scriptural meditation, solitude, etc.) could play in the process of listening to God’s voice. More, too, might have been written to recognize that God’s whispers are not intended to lead everyone to the numerical and financial level of an organization like Willow Creek. That said, I enjoyed reading this book and was encouraged by its message.
Insights on John by Chuck Swindoll
Having taken some time studying, translating, and interpreting John using some of the classic scholarly works on John for an exegetical seminary class, I was interested in taking a look at a more practical commentary on the fourth gospel. Not having much familiarity with Swindoll beyond his name recognition, I was not sure what to expect when I received this book. The publishers have done a great job making this a user-friendly commentary that is extremely readable; the binding is solid and sits open well on a desk (small things like that make me happy) and the text is large and clear (the third text color – brown/sepia – is really helpful for distinguishing section headings, charts, etc.). Like most commentaries, Swindoll moves through John’s Gospel section by section, offering insights into the culture, history, theology, etc. presented in the text. Included throughout the book are sidebars, charts, personal reflections, and pictures that help give life to the commentary.
Commentaries are not generally books you want to sit down and read straight through, but I found myself reading large chunks of this commentary in single sittings. It is readable, clear, and frequently drew me back to the text of John. Although it does not shy away from discussing the Greek text, systematic theology, history of interpretation, etc. where pertinent, this commentary is extremely accessible and does not require special training or education to understand. Like every commentary, it is impossible to “just be about the text” without a particular personal, theological or ministerial bias and this is true of Swindoll’s work on John. Thankfully, most readers should recognize the particular lens through which this work emerges, as Swindolll is well-known and well published. While I found myself disagreeing with certain aspects of Swindoll’s assertions and theological illustrations, I believe that this work will be helpful for a broad spectrum of the church.
Disclosure: I received a copy of each of these books from the publisher and decided to write an honest review of them based on my personal opinions and reflections.