Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Merchant and the Monk - A Book Review


The Legend of the Monk and the MerchantTwelve Keys to Successful Living

By Terry Felber (Published by Thomas Nelson)

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book (in e-book format) from the publisher with the expectation that I would provide an honest review of the book.
I am usually a little skeptical about parable-type books, where the author tells a simple story to illustrate bigger ideas since I often find them to be too simple and obvious.  The legend of the Monk and the Merchant was very different and was a very pleasant surprise.  The story itself is good, but the study and discussion guide is the real gem in this book. 
In The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant, Terry Felber tells the story of a wealthy merchant in Venice telling his grandson about the keys to his business success.  The merchant had collected his experiences and insights in a journal over the years with his mentor and uses it to encourage his grandson who is deciding what he wants to do with his life.  Along the course of the story, they discuss God’s view of money, wealth and work, principles of success in business and life, and man’s obligation God and his fellow man.
Also, and this may be because we (my Wife and I) have young adolescents at home who—before we know it—will be making their own decisions about careers, we were really impressed with the challenging questions in the discussion guide about choosing their vocations based on God's call.
Students of Christian approaches to finances and stewardship (including Dave Ramsey, whose foreword presents a very persuasive endorsement of the book also) may find at last some of the principles familiar.  However, the way in which they are presented and the practical reflections of them in the story are very real and compelling.
Felber goes beyond just another book on Christian business principles by examining the artificial distinction between clergy and laity.  Without harping on it, he effectively makes the point that all work is sanctioned by God and that the merchant is no less ‘godly’ than the Monk.  He uses the setting, in Renaissance Venice to underscore the observable differences in the two callings at the time and thus make his point that fundamentally they are not really different at all if one truly understands God’s call to work. 
The story that Felber uses to make these points moves quickly and is deceptively simple.  A good reader could easily read it in a single sitting.  The Study guide is where this book transforms from potentially run-of-the-mill to outstanding. 
The study guide contains twelve sessions that delve deep into the ideas and concepts with challenging, soul-searching questions.  This isn’t a simple personal or small-group study that you can just answer with shallow quick off-the-cuff answers.  Felber asks the Hard Questions that really make you think and examine what you think, what you believe and how you act.  This book can be greatly valuable to people who are looking to learn about a Christian perspective on finances, but it also has a lot to say about those considering their careers—either where to start them, or thinking about a work change.  As my Wife and I observed, it is also an excellent book for young teens to read and then review with their parents as they start looking at possible careers and what it means to be an adult.
We highly recommend this book and encourage  readers to invest the time to go through the questions and let themselves be challenged—and potentially inspired—by wrestling with the questions it asks.

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