Book Review: Activating the Power of the Cross

Today I’m review Tony Evans’ Book Activating the Power of the Cross. I’ll follow the same format as last time. I will note, here at the beginning, that I received a free review copy from Moody Publishers for the purposes of this review. If you want to purchase the book, go to your local bookstore or get it online here.

The book is organized into 4 chapters. The first one deals with keeping the cross as our primary focus always. The second one makes the argument that the cross (of Christ) is a source of genuine authority when so much of that is called into question. The third chapter points to the cross as an anchor in the storms of life. No matter how bad things get, we can have power in the midst of our trouble (i.e. Evans doesn’t make the claim that God simply removes us from our trouble, but that he gives us shelter in the midst of our trouble). The final chapter deals with our call to “come and die” as Bonheoffer famously put it, we identify with Christ in his suffering and death that we might be raised with him.

The Good

Tony Evans is unquestionably a master of illustration. The illustrations throughout are poignant, engaging, and really wonderful. Plus the overall message is one I can really get behind: the cross gives you victory even in the midst of defeat, so long as it remains in our focus.

The Bad

There’s not too much I actually disagree with. There are some things I would have done differently, but I’ll save those for the next section.

The Ugly

Although Tony Evans doesn’t ever come to a position that might be characterized as “health and wealth” some of his language could be interpreted that way by a less than careful reading. Especially the terminology of “activating the power” and getting victory now. I will say that just because some preachers use these terms to promote a mistaken theology does not mean we should avoid these terms, but I would have liked to see a little bit more elaboration and clarity on this point. The book is not very long, so there is space for that.


I’d say buy the paperback (5 out of 6). It’s a concise yet pointed read, and for illustrations one can really not do better than Tony Evans, but I grew up listening to his radio program in High School and College, so maybe I’m biased.


Jesus is ____. by Judah Smith (Book review)

Review Format

I’m going to try a different format for this review. I will list things in the order of the “The Good,” which is my assessment of what makes a book valuable, “The Bad,” which are content related things that need some work, and “The Ugly” which is an assessment of how the material is presented (or poorly presented). Following this I’ll give my final evaluation and rank it on a six category scale. Best is “Hardback Buy”, then “Paperback Buy,” then “Ebook buy,” then “Borrow”, next to worst is “Meh” and worst is “Avoid at all costs.” I’ll use this for all future book reviews (regardless of whether they exist in hardback or ebook form).

This is a review of Jesus is _____. by Judah Smith. It is based, in part at least, upon the wildly successful “Jesus is ____ ” campaign from Seattle that asked people to fill in the blank, had billboards and websites, and generally got “Jesus on the mind of Seattle.” Judah Smith is pastor of City Church in Seattle, along with his wife Chelsea.

The Good

I’ll start off by saying that this is a good book for Christians. It does raise some interesting questions and presents a few perspectives I hadn’t considered before. Ultimately, the overall message is good and uplifting and may lead to a closer relationship with Jesus. It certainly made me think about church in a few different ways.

The Bad

Judah Smith’s Old Testament theology needs some serious work. He is still in the mindset that the Old Testament religion of the Hebrews was a works based salvation. It wasn’t. It is full of Grace. This review isn’t the place to make that argument, but this bit, which he relies upon for some contrasts, is just mistaken. The same contrast could have been made if he simply talked about how most people think about religion (weighing good and bad, etc.).

The Ugly

OK, this may get messy. Let me state from the outset that Judah Smith seems like a great communicator. A great oral communicator. Really this seemed like an extended sermon series (with each sermon being a little longer than he is likely use to delivering). While I understand that this is the primary way he communicates his message, it makes the reading a bit labor-intensive at times, and each chapter could probably be about 25% shorter (and I’m pretty long winded, so that says something). Many of his jokes fell flat, in large part because he couldn’t deliver them in person (I could see how they might be funny if I heard them instead of read them), and in part because he seemed to assume they were funny anyway. Finally, some of his illustrations are just too trite or too silly to take seriously (Worthy World versus Grace Land? Seriously?).

Final Assessment

Judah Smith clearly has some great big picture thoughts and ideas. He seems to be readily able to develop these into sermons/talks. Not into books though. The major downside of this book was a lack of follow through and execution. Honestly, he could have said what he needed to in about half the space. There was just too much needless fluff (or undeveloped points). My overall assessment “Borrow.” (3 out of 6) It’s worth looking at, but once through (and even a skim through) is probably enough.


I received a free copy of this book from the “booksneeze” program for the purposes of review, affiliated with Thomas Nelson Publishers. I have not been paid or received anything else for this review. I nevertheless try to maintain objectivity in my review.

This is FREE right now

The book I reviewed last week, The Bible is Beautiful, is available FREE on Kindle from Amazon right now! I think it may only be through the end of the day, but if you were curious and have a Kindle account (or way to read Kindle books), now you have no reason not to get it.

Click here to get it.

Book Review: The Bible is Beautiful

This is a review of a book The Bible is Beautiful which you can get from Amazon by clicking the title over there. Before I begin, I should note a few things, in the interest of transparency:

1) I know Brett Davis (the author) personally and we went to Beeson Divinity School Together

2) This is not an academic book. If that’s what you’re looking for, ask in the comments and I may have some more “academic” oriented works

3) I was provided a free electronic copy of the book for the purposes of review.

With that said:

Brett Davis’s book The Bible is Beautiful sets out to demonstrate just that; it seeks to help the reader recapture, or grasp for the first time, the wonder and joy of reading the bible anew. At its root, the book is primarily what you might call a general “biblical theology,” though to read it only as that would be a mistake.

Admittedly, at the beginning, the writing style has a certain level of inexperience (not that I’m one to talk) and unfamiliarity with these type of writing projects, a fact that he readily acknowledges in the introduction and that one would expect from a first book. It does take him a few pages to “get his footing” so to speak. Despite that, though, his self-aware inexperience brings a certain humility and approachability to his writing. You don’t feel like he is talking at you, but going on this journey with you. He is enamored with the bible, and it comes through in his writing. And then, once he seems to feel a bit more comfortable with his writing, things really take off, and in a very good way.

I think the book is worth a look if only for the introduction. In it, Davis makes some really good points about how we have approached the bible, and how we should. Seriously, this is not one to skip past. The rest of the book goes through the story of the bible, following the traditional Western Church’s ordering of books.

The pace is both blistering, yet easy to follow. Davis’s writing is remarkably readable and relatable. The scope is the entire bible, no easy task, yet at no point did I feel especially rushed. Also, to his credit, while he could have easily skipped some of the more difficult passages of the bible, he doesn’t. He dives right in. Rather than explaining them away or giving trite answers, Davis acknowledges the problems and embraces them. The bible is messy at times. Its story is messy. As well it should be. Because it is our story and God’s story. And we are messy and God continually comes into our messy story to inject his beauty. The way Brett Davis handles these portions is some of the best work in biblical theology I’ve seen in a while.

There is a certain pastoral sense to reading as well that really comes across. As a reader you can sense that Davis isn’t concerned with the finer theological debates that have split and divided denominations for centuries. He’s concerned with the story of the bible, and what it says then and says to us now. That’s a very good thing.

One of the key values in the book is its versatility. While it will not likely bring any earth shattering revelations to the seasoned academic, the way in which Davis tells the story nevertheless should make anyone who wants to be obsessed with the bible rediscover some of that passion. The new Christian, or even someone whose never been to a church, need not feel intimidated either. In fact, I’d recommend it most especially for those who have no background with the bible as he does a wonderful job of setting the various biblical passages within the framework of the greater story being told. Although a quick read through is done easily enough, I’d encourage readers to use the footnotes. While they occasionally act primarily as references, the scripture references can help to be jumping off points for more in depth studies, and his humor does show up occasionally in them.

I’d certainly recommend this book for anyone wanting a better grasp of the bible and especially for those wanting to see the bible from a different perspective and see it, as Davis puts it, as the beautiful story it is. As my final recommendation for those a bit more advanced, let me put it this way. When I taught Biblical Perspectives (a rather sweeping survey course), I would recommend for those interested in a biblical theology the work of Graham Goldsworthy. I still think I’d do that today, but I’d probably also add this book to the list, and be sure to tell students that if Goldsworthy seems a bit too intimidating, The Bible is Beautiful, is a much more accessible starting point for seeing how a linear biblical theology is done, and a good introduction to reading it through.

Well done Brett, and thanks for a truly enjoyable read.

Again to buy it (or if you are on Amazon Prime, get it for free) go here.

If you want to go to the author’s blog, it’s here, though it’s been stale since October (but I wouldn’t know what that’s like)