The Monitor's Guide to Religion Bestsellers

The Monitor's quarterly review of bestselling religion books offers a

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1. APOLLYON, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Tyndale House, $19.97 As the Apocalypse lengthens, our friends from the Tribulation Force continue to battle the anti-Christ to bring souls to Jesus. The woes that John prophesied in Revelation continue to afflict the world, and things worsen before they get better. The more I read this series, the more disappointed I get. The authors attempt too much by providing more background than is necessary for readers. The writing is choppy, and as the plot leaps from location to location, the reader is often left behind. By Jan Moller

2. JUST LIKE JESUS, by Max Lucado, Word, $19.99 The Rev. Max Lucado's latest book encourages readers to make changes in their lives by following Jesus' example. Lucado infuses his chapters with examples of common challenges, many from his own family's experience. While this book would be of great value to someone exploring faith anew, it's also for any reader wishing to improve by considering the statement, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Included is a study guide, correlative biblical passages, and questions corresponding to the chapters. By Leigh Montgomery

3. THE ART OF HAPPINESS, by the Dalai Lama & H. Cutler, Riverhead, $22.95 The purpose of life, says the Dalai Lama, is to seek happiness. This seemingly elementary statement requires strict adherence and mental discipline toward a benevolent, rather than self-centered, happiness. There is great value in reading about the basic spiritual values of this unique world figure and Tibetan spiritual leader: human qualities of goodness, compassion, and caring. This book is based on a series of conversations the Dalai Lama had with Howard Cutler, a Phoenix-based psychiatrist. By Leigh Montgomery

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4. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I, by Neale D. Walsch, Putnam, $19.95 Written in a simple, accessible style, this book is based on what the author, the founder of an Oregon-based organization called ReCreation, describes as a three-year conversation with God that he transcribed. It contains some substantial insights and flashes of humor. God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being, who is constantly communicating with all people. Prayer is described as a process, not a petition. This is the first of three books. By Abraham McLaughlin

5. GOD IS IN THE SMALL STUFF..., by Bruce Bickel, Barbour, $12.99 The makers of the W(hat) W(ould) J(esus) D(o) bracelets have come out with a book based on the same principle: Realize that all the details of your life matter and that you will find peace and happiness only if you find your way through Jesus Christ. The framework and even some of the content of this book are similar to those quote books that encourage readers to simplify their lives, listen to their mothers, and even grab wisdom from their pets. If you're looking for a Christian gift book, this could be a sweet choice. By Christy Ellington

6. THE LADY, HER LOVER, AND HER LORD, by T.D. Jakes, Putnam, $19.99 T.D. Jakes tries valiantly here to provide women with a navigational atlas for today's world. He perceptively assesses some typical pitfalls of relationships and self-perception. Using the Scriptures as the foundation, he hammers home three basic points: (1) Be happy with yourself, (2) have confidence in your relationship with God, and (3) trust that everything else will follow. But that's where the book loses its punch. These ideas could have easily fit into a brief pamphlet. Instead, his concepts get lost in 208 pages of belabored writing and fluffy analogies. By Kristina Lanier

7. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK 3, by N. Walsch, Hampton Roads, $22.95 The theme of this final installment of Walsch's bestselling New Age trilogy is universal truths. The conversation - presented in dialogue form - tackles everything from whether humans have soul mates to the existence of aliens. The God in these pages is an all-knowing being who doesn't condemn people and who eschews guilt. He simply waits for them to listen to Him and act according to the wisdom He imparts. By Abraham McLaughlin

8. DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE BIBLE, by Kenneth Davis, Morrow, $25 For those who shrink from the prospect of reading the Bible cover to cover, Davis, author of the bestselling "Don't Know Much About" series of history guides, delivers a fast-paced overview. Short, selected readings are followed by answers to questions like: Was there a coat of many colors? Who really killed Goliath? He quotes rabbis, popes, pastors, creationists, and evolutionists. "I try not to 'interpret' the Bible," he writes, "so much as to explain what is actually in it." His humor and sometimes in-your-face tone add interest. There's much here for anyone to learn. By Sara Gallant

9. SOUL HARVEST, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $22.99 Book 4 in the popular apocalyptic saga is set in a future where the world is afflicted by the wrath of God. Rayford Steele and Buck Williams, members of the Tribulation Force, an underground Christian army, search desperately for their loved ones amid the ruins of a global earthquake. This fast-paced roller coaster of a story reads as if it's written for the big screen. Jenkins and LaHaye, however, steep the adventure in biblical references and religious symbolism, so it may alienate readers who are not evangelical Christians. By Caitlin Shannon

10. FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE, by Jim Cymbala & Dean Merrill, Zondervan, $16.99 This is the story of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a Manhattan church that was literally falling apart and could barely attract 25 people a week before the Rev. Jim Cymbala became pastor. It now draws a congregation of several thousand, and its nine-voice choir has grown to 250. Cymbala also wanted the church to have a midweek meeting dedicated to prayer; those services now attract everyone from professionals to the homeless. This was 25 years in progress and reflects a deep dedication to this urban community and its significant challenges. By Leigh Montgomery

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