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No God But One – A Review

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a strict conservative Muslim family in the United States. While in college and medical school, he began doubting Islam, testing its claims and finding them wanting. In his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (one of my favorite books I read in 2014), Qureshi tells readers this experience of converting to Christianity from Islam and the emotional toll it took. In his new book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, he provides readers with a look at the claims of both religions and what evidence caused him to convert.

Studying Islam and Christianity

In this book, Qureshi seeks to answer two major questions:

  • Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?
  • Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is True?

To do this, he provides a methodical look at the claims of Islam, comparing them to both the claims of Christianity and the historical record. His evaluation of Islam is thorough, covering Muhammad, the Quran, and sharia law.

For Christianity, he engages in discussions on the Trinity, the Crusades, Paul, the Bible, and several questions about Jesus, including his divinity, his claims of being God, and his death and resurrection.

Investigating the Claims of Islam

Qureshi presents the discussion like a seasoned investigator, weighing evidence and factual claims, and revealing when the claims do not hold up. While he is trying to be objective, he admits his own biases, as he is a former Muslim turned Christian.

That’s why it’s helpful that he frames the discussion in terms of his own conversion story, suggesting that these questions were the same ones he asked on his own journey, and here are the answers he found.

Qureshi has done his homework for this journey and this book; he regularly cites verses from the Quran, the Bible, and ancient sources from both traditions. His years of debating and discussing these topics along the speaking circuit pays off, as his arguments and counterpoints are sharp, incisive, and easy to understand. Overall, the book was a solid, fast-paced tour of the major historic tenants and beliefs of the world’s two largest religions.

One weakness I saw was in his criticism of oral traditions and exaltation of written traditions, all the while there are sizable portions of the Old Testament that went through an oral process. He rightly points out several areas where the oral tradition of the Quran is likely corrupted – like when Muhammad forgot verses. But his argument is weakened by the Old Testament being formed in a similar way. By being more precise in his discussion, highlighting the apparent discrepancies between the claims of the Quran and the Islamic tradition while not putting down all oral traditions, he would have made his argument stronger.

Who Is This Book For?

In some ways, this book is an excellent primer on Islam for Christians. As a former pastor, I’ve seen the ignorance most Christians have towards knowing what Islam teaches. This book will serve as a primer into the beliefs, teachings, and historical claims of Islam. It also allows for deeper study, with notes and citations to Quranic and other Islamic texts for further reading.

And, for those outside of Christianity, I think it is fair evaluation of both religions. While he is not unbiased, he carefully explains his findings and his beliefs, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. I think it will be a helpful guide for anyone either questioning the teachings of Islam, or looking to evaluate two of the most popular religions in the world.

Conclusion

In No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi has given us a closer look into his conversion story, in hopes that we too can learn more about these two great religions. Part memoir, part history of religion, and part systematic theology, this is a solid book that I would recommend to all and will give out to many.

Thanks to Zondervan for a review copy of the book!

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Qureshi book contest

Win a Free Book from Nabeel Qureshi

I recently read Nabeel Qureshi’s new book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (releasing later this month).

Without giving away too much of my upcoming review (Spoiler Alert: I like the book), this book will be a beneficial read for Christian and Muslim alike. If you have wondered about how similar — or how different — two of the largest religions in the world are, this book will interest you.

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Pre-Order Nabel’s Book for Bonus Content

As part of a pre-order promotion from Zondervan, you can receive some great bonus content from Nabeel if you order a copy before it is released on August 30th. Bonus content includes workbooks, online videos, and audio content — all of which you can only get through this deal. To receive this free bonus content (valued at $140), order the book through your favorite online retailer (Amazon offers paperback, Kindle, and Audible audiobook). Then visit the pre-order page on Nabeel’s site and enter in your pre-order information.

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Win a Free Book

Zondervan was kind enough to send me a few additional copies to send to readers of this blog — before it is released to the public!

To become one of the first people to get a copy of Nabeel’s new book, follow these 3 steps — the more steps you follow, the better your chances at winning one of the copies:
 

1. Sign up for my email newsletter

I don’t publish frequently, but when I do, it is with interesting content that’s similar to what you love here on this site. Visit the email signup page and submit you contact information.

2. Share on Social Media

We want to get word out about this book and contest. To do that, simply share this contest on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll make it easier; you can share my original tweet here:

3. Take a Bible Reading Survey

I’m working on some exciting future stuff that’s related to reading the Bible. By taking this survey, it will go a long way in helping me make this resource even more helpful. It will take you 5 minutes and one entrant will be selected to win Nabeel’s book.

And be sure to return to this post on Monday, August 22nd to find out if you are a winner.

Good luck with the contest! And whether you win a free copy here, or you pre-order Nabeel’s book, I hope it helps you gain a better, more nuanced understanding of the beliefs of Christianity and Islam.


Contest Details: For US residents only. Contest ends on Sunday, August 21. Thanks to Zondervan for the free books.

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Why Bother With Church? Book Review

For many people who have grown up in a Christian church, and most people outside of Christianity, the local church can seem like an odd, outdated institution that is long past its shelf life. And, in some ways, the critiques are true: churches are filled with

why-bother-with-church-sam-allberry-book-reviewBut this does not change the fact that the local church is a key method of God changing lives and bringing about his Kingdom. This is the argument of Sam Allberry in his new book Why Bother With Church: And Other Questions about Why You Need it and Why it Needs You. Allberry, an associate pastor in the UK, writes this book to those who have grown disillusioned from years within the church. In this short book, he answers common questions about the nature and purpose of church, including Why do I need church?, What makes a good church?, and Can I view my small group as a church?

In the last few years, I’ve been every single one of these questions by friends, family, and congregation members. And while I was able to cobble together a passable answer, I was neither so articulate nor concise in my answers as Sam is in this book. With a pastoral tone, the author is able to provide a compelling case for why church matters in the 21st century, and how, despite her flaws, is still having a tangible impact in local communities.

Allberry does a fine job of explaining the importance of corporate worship, accountability, leadership, and discipleship — all components of a healthy local church — to the spiritual formation of every Christian. He also spends time describing the role every Christian should play in his or her local church, including attending, involvement in, praying for, serving, giving to, and submitting to the local church.

Why Bother With Church? by Sam Allberry is a handy little book that provides a simple yet compelling defense of the local church. I think it would be a helpful gift to young adults who are disillusioned with the church they grew up with, giving them several reasons to stick with it.

Book Info

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

Pick up your copy from Amazon: Paperback | Kindle

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Best Books 2015

This past year was eventful for me and my family. We now live in a new home, in a new state, and I have a brand new job. All of these changes have been for the good, even though they have significantly altered how and what I read.

Changes In My Reading Schedule

These changes included the nature and scope of my reading. No longer am I preparing for weekly sermons or Bible lessons. Instead I am honing my copywriting, marketing, and advertising skills. I still want to stay current on several theological issues that interest me (biblical theology, the first chapters of Genesis, and the relationship between science and religion), but I’ve had to significantly reduce this part of my reading plan the last 3 months.

In previous years I noticed a glaring lack of fiction in my reading diet; I remedied that this year by overloading on popular fiction works. This way I could ease my way into an unfamiliar genre, with the goal of reading older, classic works in the future.

Also, having a substantial commute has cut into my time to sit down and read a book. Instead, I have embraced the wonders of podcasts and audiobooks. I am still learning what constitutes a good audiobook, as I’ve had to stop listening to several because I couldn’t follow along as well in the audio format.

The Best Books I’ve Read in 2015

In no particular order, here are the top books I’ve read in the past calendar year. Unlike other top books lists, this one is not limited to books published in 2015, but rather book’s I’ve read this year.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This was the book I most enjoyed in 2015. I loved how the author, Andy Weir, crafted the perfect blend of science, storytelling, and humor into one book. With just the right amount of pacing, drama, and internal dialogue, The Martian was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The movie was a gorgeous, faithful depiction of the book, but sadly couldn’t include all the humor of the book.

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

Another popular sci-fi fiction book, this was a fun read over the summer. Filled with 80’s pop culture references, I enjoyed having flashbacks to my childhood, while also trying to pick up all the 80’s movies the author references.

This movie also provides an interesting commentary on technology, corporate greed, and the basic human need for friendship and companionship. Overall it was an enjoyable, quick read that I will pick up again soon.

The Complete Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

To my wife’s disbelief, I had not read any of the Harry Potter books when I was younger. She remedied that by watching the movies every year, but she kept encouraging me to read the books on my own. I finally had time to read them this summer, and I was sure glad she made me.

The Harry Potter series is a majestical, monumental work of great storytelling, focusing on the eternal truths of love, friendship, and sacrifice. It’s a brilliant move on J.K. Rowling’s part for shaping each book to stand on it’s own and tell it’s own story, yet be part of this grand narrative that’s moving to a conclusion.

And the demonstrations of self-sacrifice found in this series is the best example of Christ’s love in fiction — with perhaps the exception of Aslan. I look forward to reading this series again, this time with my daughter.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

This book is a hodgepodge of several ideas: one part oral history of Pixar Animation Studio, one part creativity journal, one part behind-the-scenes look at what works and doesn’t work at a creative juggernaut, and one part leadership management book. The resulting book is a wonderful mix of stories, leadership tips, and practical advice on nurturing creativity. While not as straightforward history as The Pixar Touch, this is a must read for any fan of Pixar, along with creatives and those managing creatives.

The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

I was unsure of this book when I downloaded it from Audible; I thought the title seemed a bit sensationalist: the “Billion Dollar” spy? But as I listened to the book, I was blown away at the utterly fascinating story of the life and mission of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer-turned-spy. Like the fictional George Smiley, Tolkachev is an unassuming, unremarkable middle-aged man. But between 1978–1985, Tolkachev used his position as a senior radar engineer to smuggle thousands of documents, schematics, and engineering plans on Soviet radar and aviation technology advances to the United States. The value of these contributions is incalculable, but one conservative estimate sits at over $2 billion dollars in that day.

Another side of this book is the deep dive into the cat and mouse game that was the CIA missions within Moscow. The author provides a compelling look at several case workers who handled Tolkachev, describing their lives, how they conducted their missions, and the constant risks to their lives. Overall a brilliant book that I would recommend to anyone who loves history or thrillers.

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters by Charles Halton

This is a great book that’s stuck with a poor name. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series, this book presents a written debate between three differing views on interpreting the first chapters of Genesis.

Why do I think the title is poor? Because it portrays this discussion as between three very different viewpoints. The literary equivalent of clickbait, the title would make you think the views are from far, opposing ends of the spectrum. The truth is that each view is much more nuanced, with overlap between each of the views. Each author carefully defines key terms like genre, fiction, and history, and shows how each term applies to Genesis 1–11.

It’s precisely because of these terms that a book like this is invaluable. Too many Christians can hear terms like fiction and history and assume they know what they mean with regards to the Bible. But these unchallenged assumptions serve as a roadblock to any productive discussions on Genesis, Ancient Near Eastern cultures, history, and origins. The three contributors provide balance to this debate, showing that you can be a Christian and have differing views on the nature of Genesis 1–11.

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H.H. Scobie

This massive book (over 1000 pages long) is a brilliant book that provides a comprehensive overview of every theme — both grand and small — found in the overarching biblical narrative. I imagine most pastors and Bible students would use this as a reference text, turning to the relevant section of their research. But as I gradually conquered this book by reading a few pages per day, I developed a deeper understanding of how portions of the Bible interact with the rest of the Bible.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

An account of the college rowing team that represented the United States in the 1936 Berlin Games, this book is well-written, presents a compelling story, and even provides an in-depth look at the rowing world in the 1920’s and 30’s. At times I felt the story slowed down a bit, but I am glad I pushed through and completed the book.

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Acts (EP Study Commentary): A Review

acts ep study commentaryIntroduction

Guy Prentiss Waters, Professor at Reformed Seminary in Mississippi, has just released a helpful and accessible commentary on the book of Acts. This volume is part of the EP Study Commentary series, edited by John Currid and designed for a Reformed audience. It provides a clear exposition of the text, perfect for lay teachers or devotional reading; the multitude of footnotes encourages further studies for pastors or students.

Structure

Waters stated goal in writing this volume is summarized in Calvin’s principle “clarity and brevity” (p. 8). And while some might think a 600 page book is not the definition of brevity, this is the case when it comes to a commentary. Waters does a fine job succinctly summarizing the main thrust of the book of Acts, meeting both his stated goals.

After the necessary introduction to Acts, the book is arranged into 18 chapters, each focused on a portion of the text. In each chapter, Waters breaks down the passage further into pericopes, explaining the text along with application.

My Thoughts

The book of Acts is an underrated book in the New Testament. For modern readers, the book of Acts describes how the Church came into being, and it continues to show us how Christians fit into God’s redemptive plan. Guy Waters has provided the church with a helpful exposition of this great book. I personally will be using this commentary the next time I read through Acts in my devotional time.

Conclusion

The Acts commentary by Guy Waters is a valuable mid-level commentary, perfect for lesson prep and help with devotional studies. Its clarity and brevity are to be commended, making it the perfect introductory volume for studying the book of Acts.

Book Info

Title: Acts (EP Study Commentary)

Author: Guy Prentiss Waters

Publisher: EP Books (2015)

Format: Paperback, 614 pages.

My Review: 4/5

 

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

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Wright on the Good News

I just finished N.T. Wright’s most recent book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good. While some of this book is a summary of his other works (most notably Surprised by Hope), there is some values in his distinction that the Gospel is news and not advice. Advice is something that can be accepted or rejected, while news—describing a historical event—shapes and affects reality.

In the first few chapters, Wright discusses the Gospel proclamation in context of first-century Roman culture. Notably, he compares the announcement of victories by Roman emperors with the announcement of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Christian claim, remarkable, is that the world is a different place, in a different way, not because of Augustus but because of Jesus. Not because of great affairs of state in the first-century Roman world, but because of something that happened in a far-off province near the easter frontier of the Roman Empire in the same period. The good news that Jesus announced, like that good news that his first followers announced about him, was not a piece of advice, however good. It was about something that had happened, about something that would happen as a result, and about the new moment between those two, the moment in which people were in fact living, whether they realized it or not. (Wright, Simply Good News, 17, emphasis original)

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Win My Favorite Books from 2014

Here’s a great way to start your 2015 off right: by winning some of my favorite books from 2014!

I read some great books in the last calendar year. These books were practical and greatly helpful in my life and in my ministry. Since these books helped me out so much in 2014, I wanted to share them with you.

The winner of this contest will receive the following 9 books:

The contest for these books ends Saturday, January 10 at 5 pm EST. To enter, simply sign up for the new A Greater Story email list. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you; you can expect to receive one email at the most per week.

 

Enter the book contest now!

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Best Books I Read in 2014

I am always reading books. While I didn’t have as much free time in 2014—mostly due to the new addition to our family—I still managed to read a fair amount of books. In this post, I’ve compiled a list of the best books I read in 2014.

Before we get to the list, a few observations. The list is dominated by memoirs, apologetics, and church revitalization. Much of this is is because I am working in those areas in ministry. The list is also short on fiction and history, primarily because I had less free time to read.

Best Books I Read in 2014

 

11. Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder

Lynn Wilder shares her story about converting to Mormonism, raising her family in the Mormon faith, and finally embracing the grace of Jesus Christ. A good read for anyone with loved ones who are Mormon, and a great example of the power of the Gospel. (my review)

10. Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

A cold-case detective looks at the authenticity of the New Testament, including the claims of the gospel writers. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good, readable primer into New Testament and Christian apologetics. (my review)

9. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Like Unveiling Grace before, this is the memoir of a person’s journey to find the grace of Jesus Christ. Only Qureshi comes from a conservative, fundamental sect of Islam. His story, which involves critically engaging with the claims of both Christianity and Islam, is another helpful read for those interested in apologetics. (my review)

8. The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

Stafford interviews eleven Christian scientists as they seek to reconcile their faith with their work. A helpful book dedicated to showing how brothers and sisters in Christ can agree that God is Creator, even if they disagree how He did it. (my review)

7. Futureville by Skye Jethani

The value of this book is less about changing your views about the end times and more about applying your Christian faith in everyday life. (my review)

6. Rebuilt by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran

This book is a helpful memoir of a Catholic parish that went through a season of revitalization. I appreciate hearing the authors’ honesty as they struggled through changing their parish’s culture.

5. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

A thrilling espionage book that tells a Cold War tale of deceit and double-crosses. The lone fiction book to make the list, this is my favorite book by le Carré (so far), and one of my favorite spy books I’ve read.

4. C.S. Lewis – A Life by Alister McGrath

A wonderful modern biography of the popular writer. While McGrath does respect Lewis, he does not hold back in criticizing his subject. Also, McGrath does a remarkable thing: he corrects Lewis on his conversion date! (my review)

3. Truth Matters by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw

An accessible yet powerful apologetic, this book answers some of the more popular questions people have with Christianity. This is a book I frequently hand out to students and skeptics. (my review)

2. Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller

A common symptom of an unhealthy church is an inward focus: the ministries of the church exist solely to meet the needs of members. Miller argues that this is not only unhealthy, it is not being true to the Gospel. This book casts a new vision for revitalizing a church, helping it turn its focus outward to the world. (my highlights)

1. Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer

This little book takes a powerful look at what can kill a church. With tons of practical advice, this book helps readers evaluate the health of any church, and reminding of what truly matters in a church. (my review)


Here are the best book lists from 2013 and 2012.

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Stuff You Should Know About

In many movies, there is a wise sage character; he is the character that takes the young protagonist under his wing. Think Yoda and Obi-Wan in Star Wars, Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, and Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These beloved characters are charged with preparing the inexperienced protagonist for the real world.

Growing up, my parents and family members taught me the ins and outs of life: how to behave, how to eat properly, and how to drive. But what about the mundane, trivial things in life?

Do wise sages exist for the trivial things in life?

In Stuff You Should Know About Stuff, Tripp & Tyler seek to fill that role in your life. The provide a wealth of practical knowledge on how to behave in certain [read: mundane] situations. Like how to properly help a friend move:

Also featured in this book are answers to life’s most important trivial questions:

  • Which urinal should I use?
  • How should I behave on the beach?
  • What’s the proper movie quote ratio?
Norah Stuff Book
Norah is learning a great deal

This book is filled with hilarious wit and wisdom from Tripp & Tyler. They have a gift for looking at ordinary situations and finding the humor in it. Often I found that they were writing what I would be thinking in the exact same situation!

Stuff You Should Know About Stuff would be a great stocking stuffer for those in your life who enjoy humor, or those who are looking for words of wisdom in the trivial things of life.

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Songs of a Suffering King – A Review

songs of a suffering king coverThis past summer’s sermon series at North Baptist Church was an overview to the book of Psalms. As we saw repeatedly in this series, the collection of psalms cover all aspects of the human experience: righteousness, suffering, and worship of God.

My favorite part of this series was showing how Christ can be found throughout the Psalter. That’s why I was excited to see this new book by J.V. Fesko: Songs of a Suffering King, which takes readers on a journey through the first eight psalms. According to Fesko, Psalms 1–8 constitute a grand Christ hymn, first describing David as the suffering king, but ultimately pointing to Jesus Christ.

Structure

In this brief book (122 pages), Fesko devotes a chapter to explaining each of the psalms. Keeping in mind that each psalm is a song, he titles each chapter accordingly:

  • Song of the Righteous Man (Psalm 1)
  • Song of the Lord’s Messiah (Psalm 2)
  • Song of Deliverance (Psalm 3)
  • Song of Hope (Psalm 4)
  • Song of Protection (Psalm 5)
  • Song of Forgiveness (Psalm 6)
  • Song of Vindication (Psalm 7)
  • Song of Majesty (Psalm 8)

As he exposits these 8 psalms, Fesko takes the reader on a journey from the throneroom to the place of opposition. And while this is the journey experienced by David, it is also the journey of Jesus Christ. Throughout the book, Fesko clearly points to Jesus Christ as the greater David, and the focus of the entire Psalter. “Jesus,” Fesko writes in the Introduction, “was both the long-ago prophesied Davidic heir to the throne of Israel and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah in chapters 40–55.” (7).

My Thoughts

In my preparation for the aforementioned Psalms sermon series, I did plenty of reading on the makeup and composition of the Psalter. What really struck me was the apparent ordering and grouping of certain psalms. They didn’t fall together accidentally; they were placed in a certain order on purpose.1

In this book, Fesko does a fine job showing how the first 8 psalms are a microcosm of the Davidic story, and in turn point to the greater Christ story. He helps place each psalm in its historical context2, and then highlighting how it points to Christ. Seeing how Jesus is found in the Old Testament is a sorely-needed skill for Christians today; Fesko helps meet this need.

One reason for Fesko’s focus on the Psalter is because of his faith tradition; according to the book, he is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which sings the psalms during the worship service. He provides some helpful advice on singing the psalms, and even includes a metrical version of each of the eight psalms.

With rich exposition, helpful application, and productive questions at the end of each chapter, Songs of a Suffering King is a strong entry point for studying the Psalter. I could see this book being a fitting read for a small group, or the basis for a devotional read of the Psalter.

Book Info

Thanks to Cross-Focused Reviews for a free review copy!


  1. For more on how each of the psalms fit together in order, check out the brilliant chapter in Schreiner’s The King In His Beauty  

  2. So far as we can guess. 

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