Book Review: Between Heaven and the Real World

Between Heaven and the Real World
by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman shares the story of his life so far—childhood, romancing his wife, the road to becoming a household name in Christian music, and the loss of his young daughter. Chapman does not hold back as he tells of doubt, uncertainty, even anger, but also of learning to trust God, to believe He’s working even when we can’t see it, and to let Him lead the way.

I went into this book knowing that there would be tears involved, considering the circumstances around his loss (I don’t know if spoilers are an issue for an autobiography, but I’ll still avoid it, just in case), and I’d imagine it would be even more difficult for those who have experienced a similar loss. The emotion is raw, unfiltered, and there’s no attempt to cover it up and say “God’s got this,” since that would be disingenuous to how they were feeling at the time. One thing Chapman points out in this book is that you can know and fully believe that God is good all the time, and that His plan and timing are perfect, but that won’t necessarily keep you from feeling completely devastated by a loss, especially when in the immediate moments, days, months, when you’re still in shock, reeling, trying to process and figure out how you even take another step forward. This book is certainly not a how-to on picking yourself back up after a devastating loss, trusting in God, and moving forward firmly in His plan, but more a picture of one family’s muddled, messy attempts at finding daylight in the utter darkness.

And of course, this was just one chapter of Chapman’s and his family’s lives (several chapters in the book, though). I appreciated reading about how his earlier life led him to be the man he is and write some of the songs he’s written. I was fascinated by some of the stories behind songs that are well known to me. I do wish some of the theology had been delved into a little more deeply, for example the foundational reason that a loving God allows bad things to happen, but in the end, he was sharing his life, not trying to preach a sermon. I was also often disappointed with the picture placement, because pictures would come too early and sort of “give away” something that was coming. It might have just been an issue with the Kindle version, but then some pictures came on time or a little later than the event was discussed, so who knows. (I fully enjoyed the pictures themselves, though.) Overall, it was a deep, at times dark, fascinating read, and think that fans of Steven Curtis Chapman’s music will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry.

Find out more about Between Heaven and the Real World and Steven Curtis Chapman

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Book Review: Gospel Reset

Gospel Reset
by Ken Ham

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Ken Ham explains in this book that, “The gospel message hasn’t changed, but the way in which it needs to be presented in a secularized culture does need to change.” Since reading Already Gone a few months ago, I’ve started to wonder how our church can better present the truth of the Bible to the youth that attend. Last month, my husband and I went to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum and came back with some books that my husband wanted to read, including this one, and after reading Gospel Reset, he’s started to have similar thoughts to those I’ve been having.

The book rehashes some of the information presented in Already Gone, but obviously not everyone who reads it will have read the other book (my own husband, for example). To me, the value of the book lies in the comparison of Peter and Paul preaching to Jews and Greeks (respectively) in different chapters of Acts to the culture of America past to America present. Though many of us today already recognize that the culture is a lot less open to hearing about the Gospel than it has been in the past, it’s helpful to have this comparison to the Bible and the early church.

I found most of the illustrations unnecessary (and sometimes confusing), but overall, the viewpoint presented and resources at the end can provide some helpful insight into a big problem facing Christians today.

Find out more about Gospel Reset and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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Book Review: Behind the Lights

Behind the Lights
by Helen Smallbone

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Helen Smallbone is the mother of seven children who are all adults now, three of which are well-known in Christian music—Rebecca St. James and brothers Joel and Luke of for KING & COUNTRY. In this book, she shares the story of her family, from moving from Australia to the US where everyone pitched in to keep them all afloat, to working together to put on Rebecca St. James’s shows once she got into the music industry, and to how for KING & COUNTRY got started.

One of the things I liked about this book was that way it was so conversational, like she’s telling her story in person. And she’s not afraid to talk about the mistakes made by her or anyone else in her family. I appreciate the way she ties every lesson learned into God and the Bible. Though very little of her incredible life is very relatable to me, I was still quite immersed in the book and was carried along with the ups and downs.

I’ve seen hints of at least Joel & Luke’s involvement in Rebecca St. James’s concerts, but the overall story of the entire family working at their oldest sister’s concerts and growing into their roles was the most interesting to me. It gives a lot of insight into what I’ve said since pretty much the first time I saw fK&C in concert—they put on some of the best live shows I’ve ever been to. And now I can see how their talent as performers had early roots. I’m really glad I read this book, and think that fans of Rebecca St. James and/or for KING & COUNTRY will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry (though I was fairly disappointed by some of what I read about that).

Thank you to Netgalley and K-LOVE Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Behind the Lights and for KING & COUNTRY
Publication date: April 12, 2022

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Book Review: Already Gone

Already Gone
by Ken Ham & Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

The results of a survey of 1000 20-somethings who attended conservative Christian churches regularly growing up, but have since left the church, are here presented in a way that shed light on the traditions and teachings that are not working like we think they are. With a call to action for parents, Christian educators, youth pastors, and pastors, this book is an important read for anyone who has a heart for seeing young people continue to grow in their faith once they have more say over whether to attend church or not.

Though this book, and the survey it’s based on, is over 10 years old, I can’t imagine the results and impact are any less relevant today. In fact, I can say from my own personal life that the danger of a child growing up and not finding church relevant (and possibly, by extension, God) is still very real. With admonitions like not leaving it up to the church/Sunday school/youth group to teach your kids the fundamental truths of the Bible, this book should be an eye opener for many parents of children and teens. And I have to agree that while one’s individual salvation may not be dependent on whether or not they believe in a literal six days of creation, amongst other ways the the world is trying to undermine the Bible, the impact that an individual’s belief can have on young Christians (meaning young in age or simply new to the faith) can be devastating. Put simply: if you can’t trust the first chapters of Genesis, what makes you think you can trust the gospels? Is it really more believable that a man could be born to a virgin and then rise from the dead than that a supernatural being could create the world in 6 days?

I know that I was one who was really confused about things in this area when I was younger. I don’t remember it leading me to question whether God was real or the Bible was infallible, but I also think I learned the facts about Genesis early enough that I didn’t have the chance to question these things, and I thank God for that. In fact, it was Answers in Genesis that led me to the understanding that the existence of dinosaurs does fit with the Bible (that was the first eye opener for me, as I remember having this vague uncertainty about how what I learned in school about dinosaurs made any sense if Adam and Even in the garden of Eden was also true). But therein lies the issue the book addresses—my family attended church regularly when I was young; why did I not learn about this there?

Though I do wish I’d read it years ago, this book comes at a good time for me, as I’m poised to take over the VBS program at my church in a year or two, along with my husband. Though it’s only a week-long program once a year, we’ll definitely be taking this book and its admonitions to heart. And on that note, if you’re thinking about reading this book, understand that it makes the assumption that the reader believes the Bible 100%, including on matters like creation in 6 literal days, a young earth, the global flood, and…well, find out more about what the authors of this book believe at this link. If you do not believe the Bible is true, or to be taken literally, on all of these points, this may not be the book for you. Sadly, as Ham puts it, it has now become acceptable “to use man’s ideas to re-interpret the Bible, rather than to use the Bible to judge man’s ideas.” To put it bluntly, somewhere along the line, we decided that we knew more than the author of the Bible (God), Who was there when everything was made.

My only issue with the book is that it can be repetitive. I almost rated it 4 stars for that reason, but I think doing so would undermine the truth presented within. If you are interested in reading this book, you don’t have to purchase it, as you can find the entire contents online at this link (it can be purchased there, too, but scroll down the page to find each chapter linked).

Find out more about Already Gone and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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Book Review: Things We Couldn’t Say

Things We Couldn’t Say
by Diet Eman with James Schaap

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Diet Eman, along with her fiance Hein Siestma, watched as the Nazi’s occupied their country, started imposing rules and restrictions, and then began to persecute the Jewish people living there. What started as quiet, minor resistance turned into a movement, with Hein and his brother leading their own group. Both Diet and Hein were arrested and spent time in prison, and then concentration camps. Fifty years later, Diet tells her story in Things We Couldn’t Say.

This is the third book I’ve read now that centers on Dutch resisters during WWII and the Holocaust. I was fascinated to hear about the citizens’ reactions to the occupation and the royal family fleeing in advance of the invasion, followed eventually by the realization that the royal family’s decision hadn’t necessarily been as cowardly as first thought. Diet also talks about why it was so natural for people in her country to resist, as she explains how stubborn the Dutch tend to be, easily forming splinter churches if there’s a difference of opinion.

In 2015, upon receiving the Faith and Freedom Award from the Acton Institute, Diet Eman said, “…you think it’s something special. But when your country is taken—and Hitler had said he would respect our neutrality, and then he marches in and he starts killing all of the Jews—and we had so very many Jewish people in our country. So, you would have done the same there, when you had friends who were Jewish and they were in danger.” However, from this book, it’s clear that not everyone would do the same thing. Even as Diet tried to find people who would help her early in her work, she was disappointed in her Christian friends who valued their own safety over that of others.

Diet was in the same prison, and then later, the same concentration camp, as Corrie & Betsie ten Boom, and though she didn’t meet them at the time, her observances of these fellow Dutchwomen of faith only strengthen my admiration of the ten Boom family (their story can be found in The Hiding Place). It’s inspiring to read how Diet’s faith grew during the toughest times and how she continued with her resistance work even after suffering very difficult things. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true WWII resistance or Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: Lead Me

Lead Me
by Matt Hammitt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living, memoir

Former Sanctus Real lead singer Matt Hammitt talks about the difficulties he faced for many years trying to balance life on the road with life at home. With a wife and eventually 4 kids, he wanted to be the husband and father they needed while also following God’s calling on his life and providing for his family. In this book, he lays bare the doubts, anxieties, even depression he went through while his wife was at home simply wanting him to lead the family the way he was meant to.

This book really hit home to me in so many ways. My husband and I are at a good point in our 21-year marriage right now, but it hasn’t always been so, and I know it won’t always be so. When Sanctus Real’s song “Lead Me” came out, it spoke to me every time I heard it, and I used the lyrics to explain to my husband where I felt our relationship was lacking at the time. I’m sure the song spoke to countless others as well, just as I’m sure this book will speak to many hearts. Hammitt’s insights into what it means to be present in a marriage, even if you can’t be physically present (though that certainly helps) come from a place of experience, all of which he shares in this book. That his marriage survived some of what he describes is a testament to what can happen if two people refuse to take the easy way out and instead determine to do life together, even when it gets rough (really rough, from the sound of it).

I also found some insight into an issue my extended family is dealing with right now, and highlighted some quotes that apply to that situation. Though we all have our own stories that we’re writing as we go through life, we can certainly learn from each other along the way, even if circumstances don’t match up perfectly. And though I can’t fully connect with what Hammitt and his wife went through during and after the birth of their first son, my heart broke to read about the pain and uncertainty they went through.

My favorite thing about the book is that he points back to the Bible with every uncertainty he has, with every lesson he learns. It’s all right there for us to discover, and Hammitt lays some of it out in a way that could be beneficial to so many people who are struggling with their own families, marriages, or other relationships, whether their issue is trying to balance work and home or a plethora of other possible things that can cause a divide. Also, fans of Matt Hammitt and/or Sanctus Real might appreciate this peek into his life and why he left the band in 2015. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest for any reason. (Plus, any book that mentions Psalty the Singing Songbook, not once but twice, is a winner in my book!)

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Lead Me and the band Sanctus Real

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Book Review: Return to the Hiding Place

Return to the Hiding Place
by Hans Poley

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

During the time of Nazi persecution, a Christian Dutch family called the ten Booms welcome into their home various people who were hiding from the Nazis, both Jewish and not. 18-year-old Hans Poley was the first guest, hiding to avoid being sent to Germany to do hard labor in replacement of Germans who’d been sent to fight. Here he tells the story of his time at the ten Booms’ house and his own arrest that took him to a prison, then a concentration camp.

Having read The Hiding Place earlier this year, it was really interesting to see the Beje and the ten Boom family from the perspective of one of their “guests.” Not only does Hans Poley echo Corrie ten Boom’s assertions about the incredible faith of her father and sister, he shows Corrie herself as more open and giving than she portrayed herself in some areas. For example, when her room was chosen as the location for the secret room in her book, she tried to protest it. According to Poley, however, she “readily agreed.” I think we’d all be surprised to find out how others view us, compared to how we view ourselves, and in this case, Corrie ten Boom may have been a little hard on herself. Another small thing I noticed that didn’t match up between the books is that both authors claim to be the one who gave Eusi, one of the most prominent long-term Jewish guests, his fake name, and I wonder if this, and any other possible discrepancy, is simply due to faulty memories.

Yet again I was struck by how incredibly selfless this family was, giving up their own comfort and safety to help so many others. And Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, is even more inspirational to me after reading this. He repeatedly expressed a desire to help the Jewish people as if it weren’t even a choice to make. If you’ve read The Hiding Place, you should consider reading this too. Overall, though, I recommend it to anyone interested in true Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place
by Corrie ten Boom with John & Elizabeth Sherrill

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

At 50 years old, Corrie ten Boom lived a simple life with her older sister, both of them unmarried, and their elderly father in a small house in Holland. When the Nazis invaded and occupied their country, Corrie quickly saw the need around her as Jews began to be shipped out. The ten Boom house and watchmaker shop became part of the Dutch Underground, helping those who were persecuted find a safe place, even to the point of building a small hiding place in their own house. In this book, Corrie shares much of her life before the occupation, including the faith that led her and her family to help those in needs, culminating in the arrest and imprisonment of many members of her family, and later to her time in a concentration camp alongside her sister Betsie.

This book is incredible in so many ways. It’s inspirational, and not only because of what the ten Booms did to help others. It’s the reason behind their desire to help, the way that it really wasn’t even a question about whether or not they would help, and the way that they affected everyone around them, even in the darkest of places. The strong faith in God that Corrie’s parents had, exhibited, and passed on to their children shows through every page of this book. Corrie herself struggled the most in this area, constantly learning from her other family members and being surprised by their heart for the oppressors. Yet she never questioned whether or not she should help the Jews around her at the risk of her own well-being.

Not many Holocaust-related accounts that I have read are from a Christian perspective, and I really appreciated seeing the little and big ways that Corrie and Betsie could see God involved in their plight. Though they never demanded that He help them, they trusted Him (again, Betsie more than Corrie) and gave Him credit when they saw Him work. I can only hope that in my everyday life, and even moreso when times of difficulty come, I can have the wisdom of Mr. ten Boom, the love of Mrs. ten Boom, the hope of Betsie ten Boom, the courage of Corrie ten Boom, and the faith exhibited by all of them.

Below are some quotes from the book that I marked to remember.

Casper ten Boom (Corrie’s father) upon the realization that Holland would soon be invaded:

“…I am sorry for all Dutchmen now who do not know the power of God. For we will be beaten. But He will not.”

Corrie discovered that a large piece of sharp debris had landed on her pillow while she was out of bed:

“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen–“

But Betsie put her finger on my mouth. “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety…”

And the one that stuck out to me the most, from an elderly member of Corrie’s family who spent much of her life running clubs, writing tracts, always trying to further God’s kingdom. When she learned she didn’t have long to live, her family members told her she was going to the Father with hands full, due to all of her work. She replied:

“Empty, empty! How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”

And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that You have done all–all–on the cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”

Find out more about The Hiding Place

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Book Review: Awake & Alive to Truth

Awake & Alive to Truth
by John L. Cooper

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian nonfiction

Skillet lead singer John Cooper presents a thoughtful look at today’s culture, both from Christian and secular mindsets. The main focus is on truth–where does truth come from, how do we distort it, and what happens when we let each individual decide what’s true for them? With relativism pervading the society around us, is it any wonder so many are unhappy? Broken? Searching? This book provides some insight.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the book. It wasn’t published traditionally, though presumably Skillet’s John Cooper could have gotten a publishing deal if he wanted one. As he put it, “I decided to release this book myself so that I would have the freedom to write something that I believe in and know to be true. I didn’t want to be pressured to write the book that someone else wanted me to write, or to write things that I don’t believe in.” I respect that a lot; he didn’t want to compromise. It seems to be a common theme for him. As a result, it does have typos and errors throughout, but even for someone like me who really picks up on that kind of thing, it isn’t enough to distort the message.

I think that what is within this book could ruffle some feathers, but he doesn’t pull punches or water down what the Bible says. His lays out some hard truths about today’s culture making “love” a god, ignoring parts of the Bible we don’t like, and shying away from God as judge. Depending on where you are in your life, you may find this book unnecessary or too shallow. But if you’re unhappy with the noise and chaos around you and aren’t sure what voices to listen to, this is a great book to pick up. It also has a great message to unbelievers or those undecided about God. The only downside is that this book is not widely available. The only place I know of to buy it is here, and I believe it’s currently out of stock. If you’re interested, though, it’s really worth the wait.

Find out more about Awake & Alive to Truth and Cooper’s band Skillet

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Book Review: The Truth about Us

The Truth about Us
by Brant Hansen

read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

The truth about us is that we are not all “basically good, deep down inside.” We are flawed, sinful humans. Yet we tend to believe at some level that we are better than average. We are biased towards ourselves, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Starting with this and going on to other cognitive biases, radio show host Brant Hansen challenges us to examine the way we view ourselves and the world around us and to maybe, just possibly, admit that we’re not “good” and that we need help from the only One who is.

This book intrigued me, entertained me, and challenged me. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, and he infuses insight and humor into the points he makes along the way. Early in the book Brant describes various studies that show how our brains work. I was fascinated, and at times astounded, by these studies. It’s surprising, really, to learn how little we actually observe and retain, and how we can fool ourselves. And yet, when someone who isn’t me forgets something important, how often do I give them grace?

Though I have more of an inferiority complex in some of the areas he talked about, there were some that were right on point for me. One easy example is about driving speed. I am one who tends to think that if I come up on you on the road, you’re driving too slowly (and sometimes you’re also ruining my day). But if you come up behind me, or pass me on the road, you’re driving entirely too fast. Clearly my chosen speed is the perfect speed (and no, it’s not usually exactly the speed limit), and while I don’t usually think about it more than in the moment (and no, I don’t get road rage), I can easily recognize this bias in myself. This book changed my viewpoint in a lot of areas, hopefully for the better.

One of the biggest take-aways from this book is the need for humility. We’re truly not as amazing or good as we think we are, but that’s okay! It’s good news, and understanding how it’s good news can be very freeing. I think everyone can benefit from this book, even those who hear about it and think they don’t need it, or think about others they know who need it. In fact, maybe the ones who are thinking those things are the people who need to read it the most. No matter who you are or what you’re thinking about this book, though, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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