Book Review

Review of “Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men” by Stephen Mansfield

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“Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men”
An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self
Stephen Mansfield and William Boykin
Nelson Books – 2013

Summary

New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield uses manly maxims, mini-biographies, and stirring illustrations to inspire men to evaluate their lives, raise their standards, and embrace their God-given masculine identity.

Review

This book is not only easy to read but incredibly inspirational. It’s not a rah-rah masculine grunt-fest, but a well thought out, well-researched, well written, discussion of what it means to be a godly man. The stories don’t merely centre around athletes and war veterans (as some men’s books do), but gives a much broader understanding of what it means to be male by including men of all stripes – intellectuals, peacemakers, politicians and biblical figures.

The book itself is broken into three parts:

Part 1: “The Manly Maxims”, four personal mottos that help summarize the masculine life. This is a helpful baseline for the meat of the book in part 2.

Part 2: “Show Yourself A Man”, a list of attributes (ex. Honor, Blessing, Wildness, Integrity, etc.) that combine a mish-mosh of bible studies, biographies and personal stories which are not only fascinating to read but immensely instructive and inspirational. This is the best part of the book!

Part 3: A resource section with quotable quotes, movie and book recommendations. Not my favourite part, but I can see how some guys would like this.

Conclusion

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read some great stories and be challenged and inspired (I keep using that word) to rise above the watering down of the masculine identity. I’m sure there are some people who would be upset by the fact that this book targets men, but I think it’s great that there is a book like this that I can give to my teen boys to help them set a high standard for their personal conduct and walk with God.

*I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers for review.

Review of “A Call to Resurgence” by Mark Driscoll

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“A Call to Resurgence
Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?”
Mark Driscoll
Tyndale House Publishers
theresurgence.com

Summary

Mark Driscoll writes as a contemporary prophet who feels the pressing need to address a huge amount of issues that the North American Evangelical Church is facing (or choosing not to face) today. He’s also a loving pastor, clever writer, and passionate promoter of the gospel who loves Jesus and His People and wants the best for His Church. He pulls no punches as he unapologetically pulls the skeletons out of our evangelical closets for all to see and explains why we are in such a steep decline. If you’re not alarmed, enlightened, angry, weeping, or offended by this book, then you probably aren’t reading it right.

My Driscoll Bias

Let me admit my bias. Mark Driscoll is a very intelligent, courageous, biblical, Christian leader who is sold out to Jesus Christ and who loves his church. I read everything Mark Driscoll writes, listen to his sermons regularly, and am a big fan of what the Resurgence and Acts 29 is doing. I looked forward to reviewing this book as soon as it was available from Tyndale, and as I read it, I knew what to expect and heard exactly what I expected to hear – which was a good thing.

Driscoll has always seen himself as a button-pushing, prophet and in this book he pushes as many buttons as he can. He chooses headline garnishing illustrations which shock the average person into listening to whatever he’s about to say. He is brilliant, clever, and purposefully abrasive – which is part of his charm and what drives people crazy. Regardless of what you think of his style, you should listen to him, because he’s probably right.

Review

“A Call To Resurgence” is a powerful gateway to clear thinking about the troubles the church is facing today. It is an education for church leaders and a perfect primer for anyone who has recently looked up from behind their pew and wondered, “Hey, where is everyone?”

Driscoll is a skilled teacher who helps his readers understand the key issues, what got us to this point, and then asks us to step out of our comfort zone and make the necessary changes to our thinking and practices. He raises criticisms of every kind against the Christian church and follows them with questions that every believer (and every church) needs to answer. Click here for Tim Challies’ great overview of the individual chapters.

This book is not only worth buying for the great content of the chapters, but for the pitch-perfect appendices. His section on the history of the various Christian/Religious “tribes” in our culture and recommended reading list are worth the price of the book.

Criticism

I do have a few issues with the book, though they are not many:

First, I couldn’t figure out who the target audience was. It’s not for non/new Christians because there is so much in-house discussion that is only understood by people who have been part of the church for a while. Older generations might not appreciate the aggressive language and humour. Comfortable believers won’t pick it up in the first place. I’m a pastor who appreciated the whole of it, but I wonder if much of the systematic theology and historical content might confuse or overwhelm the average attendee (or bore them). If this is a call to action for all believers, I’m not sure everyone will be able to get all the way to the end of it.

Second, every sub-section is valuable on its own, but taken as a whole, the book seems disjointed. This is a shotgun blast, not a sniper shot to the heart of the issue. He hits so many issues (history, parenting, theology, money, homosexuality, church statistics…) that the book reads like a pile of great sound bites assembled around a theme – which means that occasionally it feels incohesive. I often found myself thinking “This is really good, but why is it in here?”

Third, though his section on tribes is excellently written and extremely helpful, at times it came across as partial, biased and stereotypical. Still, if the point was show us what tribe we are in so we can evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, he did that very well.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book. It’s not going to be an easy read for anyone, but I believe it’s important for everyone. Remember when your mother told you to eat your vegetables because they were good for you? That’s this book. If you read it, and get a taste for it, it will change you for the better.

Favourite Quotes

Driscoll is always a treasure-trove of choice quotes. I wanted to close this out by sharing some of my favourites:

  • “He was dumped like a prom date with tuberculosis…”
  • “Shallow, entertainment-oriented, self-help, knockoff, consumer Christianity that offers bumper-sticker clichés in response to life’s crises fuels the movement to embrace atheistic one-ism. It’s weak sauce.”
  • “Evangellyfish with no backbones will propagate the myth that God and Jesus are infinitely tolerant.”
  • “The least likely person you’ll see in church is a single twentysomething male. He is as rare at church as a vegan at a steak house.”
  • “When trying to evangelize, fundamentalists are more prone to use methods such as tract bombing and aggressive street witnessing, which are devoid of relationship and which unbelievers experience as the spiritual equivalent of a flasher in a trench coat.”
  • “…let’s just admit that most people stink theologically and are about as ready to articulate basic Christian belief as a basset hound is ready to fly a helicopter.”
  • “In our day of ample opportunity for Bible reading and instruction, we are like fools starving to death at the grocery store.”
  •           “Men are like trucks: they drive straighter when carrying a load.”
  • “…we’d rather believe that faith is a stick and God is a piñata, and if we swing hard enough, health and wealth will come pouring down upon us.”

Review of “Messiah: Origin”

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“Messiah: Origin”
Matt Dorff, Mark Arey
Zondervan

(Read a sample here)

Summary

“Messiah: Origin” is the first “Graphic Novel” (not “Comic Book”) series that uses visuals and biblical language to tell the story of the life of Jesus Christ from John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word…”) and His birth to the inauguration of his ministry at his baptism by John the Baptist.

A Word about Scripture in Media

Since the very beginning artists have been trying to capture the big stories of God’s people in various kinds of media. I’m a visual guy (in an increasingly visual age) and I’m a big fan of different kinds of media.  I appreciate the hard work and dedication these artists take in presenting their telling of the “old, old story”. The benefits of experiencing scripture in many forms (sculpture, paint on canvas, film, drama, dance, comic book, etc.) is that they can open our eyes to new interpretations and insights into familiar stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of “7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness” by Eric Metaxas

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“7 Men
And the Secret of Their Greatness”
Eric Metaxas
Thomas Nelson

Summary

Eric Metaxas brings his skill as a writer and researcher to this excellent series of biographies. Each man’s story is told with care, accuracy and depth, giving us important insights and reflections on their life and spiritual journeys. Each chapter stands on its own as a great piece of writing and together they make a life-changing book.

Review

I haven’t read a lot of biographies. I prefer theological and practical discipleship books. That being said, one of the greatest gifts that came from receiving “7 Men” to review was the inspiration to read more biographies — because I loved it! What an inspiring book.

I’ve really been missing out and Metaxas’ introduction gives some great reasons why it is important to put aside other things to read biographies of great men (and women): We need heroes!

Certainly Jesus is the hero for all generations, but God seems to have designed humanity with the need to follow in the footsteps of less-divine men as well. All of us need to find people we can look up to and emulate (and learn from when they catastrophically blow it). We need mentors who are right in front of us, in our homes, churches and neighbourhoods, and those who have passed from this life. Without giving these people influence over our lives we live life myopic at best, or blind at worst. “7 Men” gives us a great sampling of heroes to help open our eyes.

Metaxas is an incredible writer and intelligent scholar, but what surprised me about this book was that he wrote more as a fan than a researcher. His accurate language and love for details were all there, and the writing was impeccable, but the heart behind the words was what really came to the forefront. He wants every reader — particularly the men — to be as inspired, excited and amazed by these men as he is. And not just the men, but by the God who created these men, the Christ who saved them, and the Holy Spirit who lived in their hearts and motivated their lives.

This is no dry series of biographies full of events and dates. This book is meant to challenge and motivate us to a greater awareness of life. Each biography gives us lessons to learn, habits to adopt, mistakes to avoid and points us to God as our ultimate source of wisdom and strength.

Review of “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” by JD Greear

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“Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart:
How to Know for Sure You Are Saved”
J.D. Greear
Broadman and Holman

Summary

“…many are headed into eternal judgment under the delusion of going to heaven.” (Pg 6)

“Don’t try to find assurance from a prayer you prayed in the past; find assurance by resting in the present on what Jesus did in the past.” (Pg 47)

These two quotes clarify why this book was written and why we all need to read it. Sadly, all over the world there are unsaved people who falsely believe they are saved, sitting beside faithful Christians who spend every day wondering if they truly are. This book is written for them and for us who need the tools to help them. Within are answers to critical questions each believer must settle in their heart before they can live in confident faith.

Greear also brings new life to words like belief, faith, repentance, and grace which have become so commonplace in churches that they have been nearly stripped of their true meaning and significance.

Review

This topic hits home for me because I know what it’s like to struggle with doubt and have seen it in the churches that I serve. Assurance of salvation might be the most frustrating battle that gospel preachers face. Each week we look out at the people who we pastor and wonder, “Are these people confident in their salvation?” “How can I combat needless doubting and convince believers that they are secure in Jesus?” “How can I teach against false assurance?” “How many of these people know they are saved, beyond any doubt?”

J.D. Greear knows this heartache all too well and writes from a place of pain, passion and elation as he takes us on the journey that helped him discover the true gospel of peace. His style is a wonderful combination of grace and sensitivity for those who struggle with doubt, while pulling no punches with any who would use fear and doubt to control people. There is no “easy-believism” to be found in this book. It is full of hard truths told by a man with a soft heart.

He gives simple, applicable, and convincing scriptural insight coupled with well thought out explanations and applications – without being wordy or using unnecessary jargon. He has a great teacher with a remarkable strength for answering unasked questions (like “What if I have no ‘moment of salvation’”?). He treads carefully through difficult and controversial topics (like free-will), discussing them biblically and illustratively, but isn’t afraid to admit his limitations and allow the mysterious parts of salvation to remain a mystery. Though unafraid to address controversies, he doesn’t get swept up in endless debate or plant his head firmly in the cement, but keeps the main thing the main thing by rising above the fray to teach us about what is most important – our salvation.

My favourite parts of this book are Greear’s evangelistic outbursts. It’s as though he’s writing along, helping us understand an important topic, and can’t help but start preaching the gospel. This book comes from a very authentic place.

There are a lot of quotables in this book that belong on a poster or the wallpaper on my computer. I found myself saying “Amen!” aloud quite often. His explanation of progressive sanctification was so wonderful and powerfully simple that it gave me a deeper love for my Saviour – a great gift.

Conclusion

This book isn’t just for new believers who need assurance, but for any Christian who struggles with doubt, hopelessness, feelings of condemnation, or habitual sin. As I read it I found that it was uncovering some chinks in my spiritual armour like unrepentance and sins that I had grown comfortable with which were keeping me from God. I am indebted to this author who helped me move from a scholastic reading of his book to penitent and thankful prayer before my loving Lord. It is my prayer that everyone would read this book and be assured of their place before Jesus and at peace with God.

An Informal Review of “Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton

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Orthodoxy

by GK Chesterton

While trying to fill my new Kindle Paperwhite I’ve been scanning the free downloads section and came across “Orthadoxy” by GK Chesterton. It wasn’t even close to what I expected, but I came away very glad I read it.

Too.Much.For.Brain.

It is not a systematic theology (as I thought it would be) book but a testimonial of the intellectual process by which the author turned from frustrated agnostic into a faithful Christian. It was a very interesting, enjoyable read full of great imagery and creative language, but was sometimes intellectually overwhelming. At times (more often than I would care to admit), I found myself barely hanging on as he explained how his mind processed big ideas like depression, ethics, faith and paradox. I felt like a computer running a program it was never designed for (or Lucy in that famous scene with the chocolates on the conveyer belt).

As I read I often felt like I was living out the poisoned cup scene from The Princess Bride (one of my favourites!). Do you remember it? (Here’s it is on YouTube)

Vizzini: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?

Wesley: Yes.

Vizzini: Morons.

Wesley: Really! In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.

Vizzini: For the princess? To the death? I accept!

Wesley: Good, then pour the wine…Inhale this, but do not touch.

Vizzini: I smell nothing

Wesley: What you do not smell is iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid and is among the most deadly poisons known to man.

Vizzini: Hmm

Wesley: All right: where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink and who is right and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine it from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own cup or his enemies. Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet because he would know that only a great fool would reach or what he is given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known that I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Wesley: You’ve made your decision then?

Vizzini: Not remotely! Because Iocane comes from Australia. As everyone knows, Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Wesley: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini: Wait ’til I get going! Where was I?

Wesley: Australia.

Vizzini: And you must have suspected that I would have known the poison’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!

Wesley: You’re just stalling now.

Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means that you’re exceptionally strong…so you could have put the poison in your own cup, depending on your strength to save you, so clearly I cannot choose the wine in front of you. But you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Wesley: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.

Vizzini: It has worked! You’ve given everything away! I know where the poison is!

Wesley: Then make your choice…

I’m guessing that GK Chesterton and Vizzini could have been good friends because they seem to think alike (and I wouldn’t want to be on a committee with either of them!).

Favourite Quotes

So instead of a formal “review” I thought I’d share some of my favourite quotes from the book that either made me laugh (or more often) pause to think. There were many more than this highlighted on my new Kindle Paperwhite (have I mentioned that I got a new Kindle Paperwhite?), but I found each of these to be worth sharing:

“Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.” (Pg 6)

“Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.” (Pg 9)

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors…. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.” (Pg 40)

“Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once.” (Pg 49)

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Pg 52)

“Christianity was accused, at one and the same time, of being too optimistic about the universe and of being too pessimistic about the world. The coincidence made me suddenly stand still.” (Pg 67)

“A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.” (Pg 70)

“Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong. It is this silent swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything. It seems a sort of secret treason in the universe. Everywhere in things there is this element of the quiet and incalculable. It escapes the rationalists, but it never escapes till the last moment.” (Pg 74)

“The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades.” (Pg 80)

“Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all…. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild.” (Pg 88)

“…if there is a wall between you and the world, it makes little difference whether you describe yourself as locked in or as locked out.” (Pg 89)

“The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.” (Pg 91)

“I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing.” (Pg 93)

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.” (Pg 105)

“…all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.” (Pg 108)

“…we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men.” (Pg 108)

“Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world.” (Pg 111)

“If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this— that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it.” (Pg 112)

“…the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about. Our world would be more silent if it were more strenuous.” (Pg 117)

“…any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate.” (Pg 125)

“Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself.” (Pg 127)

“…to a Christian existence is a STORY, which may end up in any way. In a thrilling novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill that he MIGHT be eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak) be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man, not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he didn’t. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man “damned”: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable.” (Pg 129)

“We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.” (Pg 137)

“Science knows nothing whatever about pre-historic man; for the excellent reason that he is pre-historic.” (Pg 137)

“I looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god— and always like a god.” (Pg 139)

“Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other.” (Pg 140)

“How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.” (Pg 141)

“But the ordinary agnostic has got his facts all wrong. He is a non-believer for a multitude of reasons; but they are untrue reasons. He doubts because the Middle Ages were barbaric, but they weren’t; because Darwinism is demonstrated, but it isn’t; because miracles do not happen, but they do; because monks were lazy, but they were very industrious; because nuns are unhappy, but they are particularly cheerful; because Christian art was sad and pale, but it was picked out in peculiarly bright colours and gay with gold; because modern science is moving away from the supernatural, but it isn’t, it is moving towards the supernatural with the rapidity of a railway train.” (Pg 143)

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” (Pg 153)

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” (Pg 154)

Review of “Honest to God” by Josh Weidmann

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“Honest to God”

by Josh Weidmann

Moody Publishers

Summary

Josh Weidmann uses his love for scripture and wonderful ability to craft powerful illustrations to make complex, emotional and theological concepts understandable in this helpful book. His desire is to help you drop every barrier standing between you and God. Why? Because “being honest with God leads to transformation, because it allays our fears and opens our hearts to receive the forgiveness He offers us in Christ Jesus.” (Pg 42)

Review

This is the first book I’ve reviewed that I had no prior knowledge of before it was sent to me. I’ll be honest, I chose it because it had a cool cover, and an interesting subtitle (“Becoming brutally honest with a gracious God”). It took me a while to get around to it, but I’m glad I did because there are a lot of good things in this book.

Weidmann’s pastoral concern and desire to help us be free from the things that are standing between us and Jesus (fear, shame, deception, pride, etc.) comes through on every page. He is honest and transparent, to the point of being emotionally raw, as he invites us to join him in asking some pretty tough questions and then searching scripture for answers.

I was touched by many chapters in this book. If you look at my notes you will see “this is my favourite chapter” at least four times! His chapter on anger was wonderfully insightful. The chapter on shame was moving. “The Scandal of Grace” will be with me for a long time. “Radical Integrity” is a phrase I will certainly add to my lexicon. Weidmann’s greatest strength is his ability to use illustrative stories and powerful metaphors to convey biblically sound and theologically helpful concepts in a meaningful, readily applicable way. And he does it in every chapter!

The last part of the book, “Baring Your Soul for the Sake of Change”, is a very practical section which will help anyone who is struggling with doubt, secret sins, fear, or intimacy issues. Don’t skip straight to this section because the whole book leads up to it, but don’t miss it either because it’s extremely helpful.

Conclusion

This book is a perfect introduction for every new believer who wants to know how get honest with God and relate to Him in a deep, personal way — and for any mature believers who have forgotten how.