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Book Review: Your Jesus Is Too Safe
Book Review Link: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
Book Review: Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns
Book Review: One Christ, One Body by Scott G. Cunningham
Book Review: Opening Atlantis by Harry Turtledove
Book Review: The Way of the Christian Samurai by Paul Nowak
Frank Schaeffer is Crazy For God
Book Review: The Identity Factor by James Houston Turner
Book Review: Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott
The Summer Reading Pile

August 10, 2009

Book Review: Your Jesus Is Too Safe

0825439310.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Which Jesus do you follow? Is it the Hippy Jesus, who the Doobie Brothers sang about? Postcard Jesus, who we see in the ever-present picture, tanned and quiet? It's a question that has resonated throughout the ages; Jesus Himself asked His disciples "But who do you say that I am?" when they were confronted with various ideas of who He actually was, even in that day.

Jared Wilson's book, Your Jesus Is Too Safe, shows us exactly what kind of Jesus the Bible presents, and what kind of Jesus the early Church worshiped. The kind of Jesus that the apostles died for.

When I first heard about this book, I figured that Jared was going to skewer common misconceptions of Jesus. He does, but that's pretty much over with in the introduction to the book. Instead, Jared takes the high road and shows readers exactly who Jesus really was, how that image contrasts with our contemporary ideas of Jesus, and what it means for us today - how it should impact our daily lives and our walk with Him.

This is the kind of book that could easily turn into a heavily theological treatise, with lots of references to Greek grammar. In other words, it could turn into a book that you'd only read if your professor required it. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Your Jesus Is Too Safe is a book that can be read by anyone - I could see this being used as the fuel for a series at any church Bible study or book club. The writing style is familiar and conversational -- my wife had trouble believing I was reading a theology book because of how often I was laughing (make sure you read the footnotes!). But just because it's easy to read doesn't mean that it's theologically light. There's are outstanding discussions of the nature of the atonement, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, etc., all presented in a way that the concepts can be easily understood, along with the implications for our daily lives.

This is a book that I've been eagerly waiting for, just because I'm familiar with Jared's writing and knew that it would be a good book. After reading it, I'm even more eager for more people to read it, because one of the problems I see in contemporary Christianity is that we're worshiping a watered-down Jesus. We see only some aspects of Jesus - the parts that don't really have an impact on our daily lives, the parts that invite us to hang out and be homies. We ignore the aspects of Jesus that call us to repentance, that expect obedience from us, that call us into service for the kingdom of God. Those are Jesus, too. The point of Your Jesus Is Too Safe is to call the church to the worship of all of Jesus, even the parts that make us uncomfortable or call us to action. When that happens, I think that we'll see a true revival in our churches.

But hey, don't take my word for it. This post is just one part of a blog tour that's been put together for this book. It's going on all week this week, and you can find links to other reviews of Your Jesus Is Too Safe right here.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 01:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 10, 2008

Book Review Link: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

My review of this book at Blogcritics.

I really do enjoy this series. I got the third book to review, and grabbed the fourth when it was offered. Then I found the first two in the series in a single volume (actually, my wife found them and got them for me last year to read at the beach). The characterization is quite good, even though Maisie Dobbs seems almost to be a walking anachronism because of her progressive attitudes. Winspear does an incredible amount of research on these books; even the attitudes of the people ring absolutely true to life.

If you enjoy mysteries, or if you enjoy novels set in 1930s England, you should look into the Maisie Dobbs series. I got started just out of curiosity, but they are on my "must read" list now.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 09:10 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

February 05, 2008

Book Review: Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns

The first thing that struck me in reading this book is how similar the beginnings of American journalism and the beginnings of the blogosphere actually are.

In the beginning, you have Benjamin Harris and his Publick Occurrences both Foreign and Domestic (1690). Four pages long, poor formatting, little space between stories -- no headlines. And the first edition was also the last -- Harris' writing was so inflammatory that the colonial government in Boston shut him down. Harris is the forefather of many bloggers who seek to increase readership (and subscribers) by being as outlandish as possible (coughDrudgecough). Unfortunately, there was no freedom of the press back then.

But if Harris was the Drudge of the early colonial period, then John Campbell and his Boston News Letter was the cat blog. Long lasting just because of it's inoffensiveness, Campbell's effort was also excruciatingly dull, and typically included reports of each shipment that came into Boston Harbor.

Campbell was the exception, however, and Burns shows exactly how this book got it's name. From hyper-patriots like Sam Adams (who made up quite a bit of his 'news' with the goal of simply inflaming the public) to Tories like Jemmy Rivington (who was actually spying for the colonists!), American journalism from the mid 1700s through the Federal era was marked by constant abuse, ad hominem, and fiction masquerading as fact. Journalistic impartiality was a foreign concept to these early newsmen -- much as it is on the blogosphere today.

Burns traces the growth of American journalism from the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th, and of course profiles folks like Sam Adams and Ben Franklin. The value in this book, though, is in Burns' treatment of the lesser-known publishers, folks like Harris, Campbell, and Rivington, but also like John Peter Zenger, who was the first journalist to really fight in court for freedom of the press. Even Thomas Paine, who never published a newspaper himself but provided plenty of material for newspapermen, is profiled because of his influence on the Revolution and the attitudes of the press in his day.

Newspapers were founded to make points, to further agendas, to support causes. Many didn't make much profit, and some lost money. But that wasn't the point for them -- they had opinions and they wanted to be heard. That sentiment is gone from modern newspapers -- journalists are called to be impartial reporters with no agenda when they report the news. They are simple scribes recounting the day's events.

The people who are the real spiritual heirs of the early American newspapermen are bloggers. They, for better or worse, are the folks who get into it because they have something to say -- even if it's just what their cat spat up that afternoon. Bloggers are creating the controversies, and in some cases are making up or twisting the facts as they need to to support their positions.

One fascinating aspect of this book is the conflict between the newspapers and politicians once the Revolution was won. Newspapers hated George Washington. And just as there are conservative and liberal papers and blogs today, there were federalist and anti-federalist papers in early America. These papers often attacked each other, and were unmerciful to the politicos of the day -- something that you don't really learn in American History class today.

Infamous Scribblers is a fascinating work. What makes it even more interesting and valuable is the parallel with today's new media. I enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 06:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 28, 2008

Book Review: One Christ, One Body by Scott G. Cunningham

This is a small, thin book that attempts to cover a very important subject. And there is a lot of great information in the book. I learned a few things from reading One Christ, One Body, and (more importantly) the book gave me a lot to think about.

I had a few problems with the book, though, and part of that is probably due to the size. It seemed at times that Cunningham was trying to say that demonimationalism is wrong and divisive, and that we should work to make denominations a thing of the past. In fact, he does say that denominational leaders should work to resolve the differences between denominations, and not let denominational squabbles interfere with cooperation among Christians. But at the same time, Cunningham also says that we have to teach the truth to people who do not believe the truth.

I don't know of any denominational divides that are over things that people think are not important truths. I'm not talking about things like Bible translations or music styles -- I'm talking about church structure, authority structures within the church, proper candidates for baptism, etc. These are all important issues, but they are issues that will not be resolved any time soon. We can cooperate with each other as long as we don't have to compromise on our doctrinal standards, and we should be doing that. But it seems to me that Cunningham is taking both sides of the issue here -- we have to get over our doctrinal divisions, but we also have to teach other Christians the truth. There's some conflict there, and I'm not sure that Cunningham resolves it in this book.

The book is easy to read, though it seemed to go off on tangents at times that reminded me of a few of my own sermons (and some blog posts, too). Some minor grammatical issues stood out for me (LOTS of commas that were in wrong places), but I don't nit-pick about that. On the whole, the book is an interesting perspective on the Christian Unity issue, but one that unfortunately falls short of providing answers.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 07:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 20, 2008

Book Review: Opening Atlantis by Harry Turtledove

Week 2 of 2008 and the Book A Week challenge brings us Opening Atlantis, the latest offering from master of alternate history Harry Turtledove. I've been a fan of Turtledove's since I read Guns Of The South many, many years ago.

The premise of the book seems to be that part of North American (everything east of the Mississippi, judging from the cover art) broke off from the main continent. This landmass is much closer to Europe than the New World was, and thus is discovered and colonized much quicker (1451).

Part 1 of the book covers the discovery of the new continent, which is quickly dubbed "Atlantis." Breton fishermen know of the existence of Atlantis, and give this knowledge to an English fisherman in exchange for a third of his catch. The Englishmen see Atlantis as a place ripe for colonization, and move quickly to start a settlement there.

Things go quite well for them, even as French and Spanish colonies are founded on the coast south of the English. Atlantis is, after all, big enough for everyone. Until an English noble who backed the wrong people in the Wars of the Roses is exiled to Atlantis, and decides to make it his own kingdom.

Part 1 has definite American Revolution overtones, with it's rejection of unfairly-imposed taxation. It also sets the stage for settler/European conflict which dots the rest of the book. Part 1 does it's job, though; it sets the stage for the book (and the trilogy, for that matter), and introduces us to the family whose history we will be following -- the Radcliffes.

Part 2 shows Atlantis 200 years later, and a conflict between pirates led by Red Rodney Radcliffe and the English settlers of Stuart led by his cousin William Radcliff. Red Rodney has been preying on all manner of shipping around Atlantis, and this has made him some enemies. The settlers ally themselves with English and Dutch sailors to fight the pirates.

We see more tension between Atlanteans and Europeans in part 2. This section parallels the battles with privateers and pirates in our own timeline in the 1600s. We start to see that Atlanteans view themselves as independent, and that their European cousins see them as backwoods bumpkins who certainly aren't proper subjects of the Crown.

Part 3 gives us this timeline's version of the French and Indian War. This is one of the things that I really don't enjoy in alternate history, and it's a weakness that I found in Turtledove's Great War/Settling Accounts saga -- the determination to present parallels to wars that were fought in our own timeline. It becomes very predictable, and you end up reading to see which character is going to be the new timeline's Lincoln, or Washington, or Rommel, etc. The account of English Atlantean guerilla warfare in French and Spanish territory was interesting, but I'm hoping that the next book in the series doesn't start out with a meeting of a doppleganger Continental Congress getting ready to declare independence from England.

I really liked the fact that Turtledove is focusing on one family as the movers and shakers of English Atlantis. That's something new for him, and I think it works well. The book was enjoyable, with a couple of reservations that I've mentioned above. I wish there was an actual map of Atlantis in the book, though that is a possibility for the second book, I'm sure. There are some anachronisms in the book, which reviewers on have been quick to point out, but those aren't glaring to me. I was amazed at the ability of the English to start a successful settlement right away in Atlantis, but these settlers did not face many of the challenges that the first settlers in North America faced when they arrived here. Opening Atlantis is not up to Turtledove's usual standards, and is far inferior to Ruled Britannia, but is still worth reading. I'll have to read the second book of this trilogy to see if it really has any promise, though.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:16 PM | Comments (1312) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

Book Review: The Way of the Christian Samurai by Paul Nowak

This is the first in my 'Book a Week' resolution/challenge/whatever. Each week, I read a book and blog about it.

It was interesting looking around the internet and reading some of the responses to this book -- especially the negative ones. It's easy, I suppose, to go negative on a book that takes a new approach to something. It's easier than, say, actually admitting that you might be doing something wrong, or looking at something in the wrong way.

On Tuesday, I mentioned a negative review of this book. Well, it wasn't really a review, since I seriously doubt that the folks at Berean Call actually took time to read the book. And they'd probably take great pride in the fact that they haven't read it.

And that's a shame, because when you actually sit down and read the book, you understand where Nowak is coming from. You start to see what Christians can learn from looking around us, at people who don't serve God, and yet are doing tremendous things.

Samurai were servant-warriors. That's one thing that Nowak goes to great pains to show us -- they were servants. As Christians, we are also called to be servants; unfortunately, I think we've lost that idea, especially here in America. We're rugged individualists, after all, and we don't like the idea of subordinating our desires and plans to anyone else, not even God. We don't like a God that will cramp our style, and I think that's why the whole idea of non-religious 'spirituality' has grown so popular in the US. We make a God we're comfortable with, and we don't really have to change how we do things.

The historian in me was fascinated with Nowak's summary of samurai ideas and teachings, including quotes from many samurai throughout history. The important thing about the book, though, are the principles of the samurai that Christians would do well to learn, and cultivate in their own lives.

1. Service. Samurai lived in service to a feudal lord. Christians live in service to the Lord of Lords. We read of the commitment that samurai had to their lords, and we should be ashamed. We can't be bothered to go to church regularly, to spend an hour of our precious time in the presence of the God we claim to serve. We give up jobs at church because we're "burned out." We are wimps, and the samurai show us that.

2. Self Sacrifice and the Pursuit of Perfection. Samurai gave their lives for their lords. We don't want to give up our starting times, or our sports cars, or our luxury. We can't even be bothered to give a tenth of what we earn financially. For the samurai, a tenth would have been a mere pittance. Their lives were lived for their lords, and it was a high honor to die in that service. They were willing to lay it all on the line, as the early Christians were. We're comfortable, and we've lost that sense of sacrifice. Again, the samurai shame us.

The pursuit of perfection was, for the samurai, a lifetime of study and practice. Constant learning, constant striving to better oneself -- those were the hallmarks of the samurai life. And we Christians can't be bothered to read the Bible for fifteen minutes a day. We can't be bothered to study, to learn. We don't love God "with all your ... mind." And yet again, we are shamed.

3. Resolve. Single-mindedness. Determination. Focus. The samurai were certainly focused. Driven to the fulfillment of their objective. Their priorities came from their masters; our priorities are written for us in the Bible. We know what our job is. We know what we're supposed to be doing. And we fail, because we don't want people to make fun of us. We don't want them to think we're a bunch of religious nutjobs. We want people to like us. We've got no resolve.

If we had a fraction of the determination that the samurai had, we'd have won millions to Christ. Europe wouldn't be a bastion of secularism. America wouldn't be a society bent on rejecting God and celebrating sin and debauchery. Our world would be different, but we lack the drive. And yes, the samurai shame us once again.

It's no wonder that so many people want this book ignored. If the truth was heard, they'd have to recognize that they're not Christian samurai -- they fall far short of the mark established by God. We all fall short of what God expects of us. The sad thing is that we'd rather condemn a book out of hand than read it and recognize that it might just be right out us. We don't want to admit that about ourselves.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's not an academic theological text, it's not a devotional written by the latest thing in Christian books. But it's a little book with an important message for those who will hear.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 08:16 PM | Comments (492) | TrackBack

December 22, 2007

Frank Schaeffer is Crazy For God

John Fea at the Religion in American History blog has a review of Frank Schaeffer's newest book, Crazy For God. He gives a better summery of the book than I do in my own review, and I agree with him that many people, evangelical or not, are going to read the book in the hopes of getting some good dirt on the Schaeffer family. There's little enough of that in the book, though -- Frank tends to paint his father as an intellectual who was used by the nascent Religious Right movement back in the '70s, and his mother as dutiful housewife who sometimes regretted her own missed opportunities. But we do read of Francis' temper, and Frank's own youthful indiscretions, so maybe there's something there for the gossip-mongers after all.

I really think, as I wrote at Blogcritics back in November, that the real value of the book is for Christians, especially Christian leaders. Frank was thrust into a role that he really wasn't cut out for -- he was the heir apparent to his father's ministry. It didn't matter that he enjoyed art, and was a skilled painter and movie maker; he was called to carry on the family business.

Unfortunately, it seems he was called by humans, not by God. And when you enter a ministry without the calling of God on your life, you will not succeed. It seems that now Frank has found his true 'calling' in life; unfortunately, he lost his faith in the process.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 05:37 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

November 17, 2007

Book Review: The Identity Factor by James Houston Turner

I was set to not like this book. I've gotten a lot of small press/self-published books in the past few weeks, and most of them have been terrible. And the PR sheet on this one talked about how it was challenging the traditional evangelical view of the Pentateuch -- that Moses wrote it. So I figured that I'd read it, rip it, and move on. But The Identity Factor is actually quite good, and doesn't say much at all that would offend anyone who holds to the traditional view of Mosaic authorship of the Torah.

Basic plot line goes like this -- there's a tablet that was found in the 1920s that is an almost verbatim copy of major parts of Genesis. BUT it's 500 years older than the Genesis accounts, and it claims to have been written by Ishmael. AND it repeats the claim that Jews have been making for thousands of years -- that Palestine belongs to them, not the Arabs.

So you can see that a modern rediscovery of this tablet would cause some serious commotion -- and that's where the book begins. The tablet's been found, and the Middle East is about to explode in a ball of fire.

That's the simple plot. The book is nowhere near that simple. Tied in with the basic plot is the CIA's search for a terrorist, Abu Nazer. Nobody knows who he is, or where he is. But the CIA's getting close. And he's somehow involved with the tablet and it's re-discovery.

Every time you meet a character in this book, you start to wonder who they really are, and what they're really after. That's how complicated things get in this book. The Identity Factor is one of the best spy/thriller novels I've read in a while, just for that reason. Too often, you know exactly what's going on a quarter of the way through the book, and that makes wading through the rest a real challenge. But in The Identity Factor, you're really not sure until the final chapter what actually is going on, and who is who. And yet Turner does this without it seeming contrived.

The Identity Factor is a fast-paced book that you're going to have a hard time putting down. I highly recommend it.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 03:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 05, 2007

Book Review: Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott

I mentioned before that I'd read this one, and it's been quite a while since I finished it. But this book gives you a LOT to think about, and a lot to digest -- even after you finish reading it. And it's NOT a walk in the park to read, either. But it's a book with an important message.

Talbott starts off with a sort of definition of terms. He defines technology in the classic sense -- the Greek term techne referred to mental craftiness and trickery as often as it did the mechanical product of that craftiness. Talbott also reminds us that the Greeks didn't consider techne something that was inherently good -- it was always respected, no matter how grudgingly, but it wasn't always something that led to a positive outcome.

Talbott's use of The Odyssey in this context is very effective, reminding us that the 20th and 21st centuries don't have the corner on the technology market. The emphasis on the mental aspect of techne -- the craftiness and inventiveness -- is important to Talbott's thesis -- we must consider whether something should be done (the impact on society of new technology), not just whether we can do something. As Talbott puts it on page 9

When you look today at the mesmerized preoccupation with the sweetly sung promises of salvation through digital information, you realize that our own culture honors the Sirens far more than it does the healthy respect for the risk, the self-discipline, and the inner cunning of Odysseus, man of many devices.
Talbott's purpose in the book is to advocate a more balanced approach to technology, and a willingness to question whether an advance is really an advantage.

Chapters 2 and 3 take a slight detour. Each chapter examines how nature and humanity interact, which is important when we examine how non-natural technology attempts to make human life "better." Most telling are Talbott's stories of native cultures and how they are changed by the introduction of what we would consider simple technological advances. Talbott shows that these native people have a communion with their environment that allows them to see things that others do not see at all, and he posits that this type of communication with nature is possible for all mankind -- if we would just try. When we do that, we begin to interact with what Talbott refers to as The Other.

Talbot uses a lot of spiritual/religious language in the book, especially in these two chapters, without actually approaching The Other as God, though it would seem that The Other is more of a "god in us all" concept, almost panentheistic as opposed to classically theistic. It seems that Talbott's dedication to Naturalism as a worldview keeps him from considering that there is anything outside of Nature, so his idea of The Other has to come from within everything -- very similar to the idea of The Force in Star Wars. At one point, he speaks of our unique ability to "detach ourselves from our environment ... to see things from the Other's point of view..." without fully exploring or understanding why we are that way. Mankind was created to enjoy fellowship with God. I found myself repeatedly agreeing with what Talbott was saying, but wanting him to go a bit further -- this section was simultaneously very interesting and very frustrating.

Many scientists will be upset with Talbott's "anthropocentrism" -- a tag he readily accepts, and in fact seems to wear proudly. But he again differs from a classic theistic perspective by saying, "What distinguishes us is not our moral worth, but the fact that we bear the burden of moral responsibility." In other words, we're not worth more morally than an owl or a whale, but we bear more moral responsibility than those animals do -- assumably because we have that unique ability to commune with the Other in us all.

One popular arguement in favor of expanded use of technology is the idea of helping people -- especially "the handicapped." Talbot gives an incredible example of someone whose "handicap" actually helped them to succeed. The story of Jacques Lusseyran should be taught to every school-aged child in America as an example of what can be done even in the face of what everyone else considers a severe handicap. Talbott uses his story to show that technology may make the handicapped "normal" but it will never make them whole.

I also admire Talbott's willingness to question technologists and geneticists who claim that our obligation is to use technology to "improve humanity." I've always found it interesting how many evolutionists want to try and thwart the natural evolutionary process by using genetic engineering or technological implants to improve humanity. Talbott correctly points out that the obsession with technological improvements to humankind (or technological alternatives to humanity) is, in the end, rooted in fear. Fear of death, fear of obsolescence, and most of all fear that there really is more to us than just an individual collection of molecules. Talbott, unlike so many others, is willing to ask whether something is right to do, regardless of whether it's possible or not. "The moral range of our responsibility ... is determined not only by the range of our power to act, but also by the extent of our understanding." Our use of mechanical techne must be informed by our biological techne.

There's a LOT to this book. And there are many things that we won't like to hear -- we like our lives that have been simplified through technology. We like having information at our fingertips. We don't want to have to think about right and wrong -- we just want better, faster. But Talbott has my attention. This book is a must read, especially for Christians in churches whose answer to decreasing attendance is more bells and whistles.

Talbott has some very interesting things to say about modern education as well, and it's reliance on technology. What he writes mirrors a lot of my own personal experience, but that's a topic that deserves it's own post -- probably Monday.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 13, 2007

The Summer Reading Pile

I haven't been reviewing very many books lately because I simply haven't had enough time. But I've made myself step it up a bit, because I've got a little bit of a backlog -- and there were two books that I couldn't resist getting to review.

I just finished a book that I'm going to be doing some blogging about next week -- Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott. I got this one from O'Reilly, which surprised me a bit. The book is about the dangers of too much technology, and that doesn't seem like something O'Reilly (a tech book company) would publish. But the book is outstanding. Talbott's thesis is that there needs to be a balanced approach to the use of technology in everyday life -- and we don't really have that. Along the way, he makes some interesting points about life in general that should make theists in general stand up and cheer -- even though he stops a bit short of using the word God. More about that later on -- keep checking the blog, or subscribe to the RSS feed!

I just got an Advanced Uncorrected Proof copy of Empires, Wars, and Battles by T.C.F. Hopkins. I reviewed Hopkins' Confrontation at Lepanto for Blogcritics back in September, and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to this latest book.

I'm also reading Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. I think this book should be sent to every pastor in America -- it's that good, and that important. We're trying to program our way to growth, and we're forgetting that the church has a purpose beyond just getting bigger and bigger -- we're called to make disciples. If our programs aren't directed at doing that one thing, we're wasting our time. And that's the point to this book. I'm almost done -- expect a bigger review here in the near future.

I'm going to have a bit more time to blog soon, but I'll talk more about that when the time comes.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 08:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2007

Amazon Reviewer Ranks

This is just a quickie, but I started laughing just now when I pulled up my Amazon Reviewer ranking. I've cracked the top 5,000 -- I'm in a huge tie for #4167. That isn't what made me laugh. What made me laugh is who the person is right above me on the list, also at #4167:

4167 David T. Wayne "aka The 'JollyBlogger'" (Glen Burnie, MD United States)
Reviews written: 46

I am a father of three and husband of one and I pastor Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie, MD. I am an avid reader of theology and fiction. My particular theological interests are in the area of eschatology and sanctification, or whatever theological topic I happen to be wrestling with on a particular day. I also happen to enjoy the study of apologetics and am a confirmed ... more

Now I've written 81 reviews, and he's got 46, so he must be a better reviewer than I am. Or maybe he just reads things more people are curious about -- I tend to get a lot of computer titles. I need to review more fiction -- which I will be doing next week, right here! I finished the latest Jasper Fforde book, The Fourth Bear, and I'll be reviewing it next week -- probably Wednesday.

And I'll get that one on Amazon, and maybe I can overtake the JollyBlogger.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 04:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2007

Book Review: Does God Still Do Miracles?

Does God Still Do Miracles? is written by Dr. Brad Burke, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. In other words, it's written by someone very familiar with medicine. That's a valuable viewpoint to have in the debate about miracles.

Dr. Burke's premise is that there are a lot of people claiming miracles where they don't exist. He doesn't say that God doesn't do miracles today -- he is simply saying that a lot of what we think are miracles are not. The problem lies in how we define a miracle.

C.S. Lewis defined miracles as "... an interference with Nature by supernatural power." Dr. Burke goes a bit further, agreeing with John MacArthur's definition of a miracle as "an extraordinary event wrought by God through human agency, an event that cannot be explained by natural forces." For the purposes of the discussion in this book, with the types of miracle claims Burke is examining, MacArthur's definition serves the purpose better than Lewis'. Burke is attempting to examine specific miracles of healing, especially as manifested among faith-healing televangelists like Benny Hinn.

Many people have examined the faith-healing phenomenon before. The value in a book such as this is that the faith healers are being examined not by an agnostic or an atheist, but by a Christian. The goal is not to debunk belief in God, but to show that the "miracles" wrought by faith healers do not fit the definition -- they are explainable by natural forces, when they are verifiable at all.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the discussion of the psychological aspects of healing, especially when connected with faith healers. We tend to forget that we've been designed by the ultimate Designer, and He has equipped us with the ability to heal ourselves in many, many cases. Dr. Burke presents a very persuasive case that many people who experience miraculous healings have, in fact, simply allowed their bodies to do what God designed them to do.

Word of faith folks will not like this book -- Burke skewers their "name it, claim it" theology quite well, giving examples of people whose faith is never in doubt but who did not receive the expected physical healing. He reminds us of faith healers who apparently didn't have enough faith to be healed themselves, because they died of heart disease, cancer, etc. And we're reminded that Christ's miracles were done with one purpose -- to give glorify God. Too often, modern miracles are done to glorify the man. That, in and of itself, should be a warning sign to discerning Christians.

Dr. Burke has done the Christian community a valuable service with this book, and the series that it's a part of, An MD Examines. The books are very easy to read, but contain important information that all Christians should have.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 09:57 PM | Comments (186) | TrackBack

August 17, 2006

CD Review: Stephen Langston

I originally published this over at Blogcritics, but I think that the readers of this blog will be interested in this CD. I think it will be a worthwhile addition to your CD collection.

When I heard that Stephen Langston's EP was an "alternative Christian" release, I had something specific in mind. Relient K, perhaps, or something in the Tooth and Nail tradition. Alternative as a genre is pretty well defined.

But stylistically, Langston has more of a Michael Card meets Glass Harp sound. You can hear the classic rock influences throughout the CD, especially in "Behind The Scenes," which only makes sense as Langston lists Grand Funk Railroad, Cream, and the Beatles among his early influences. So where is the "alternative Christian" sound?

Langston is striving to provide an alternative to popular Christian music in general — a genre that has become as over-commercialized as its secular counterpart. At a time when popular Christian music seems to be revisiting the "If you like Motley Crue, you'll like Stryper" days, Stephen Langston is creating music, not copying someone else's style. While you can certainly hear his influences, the way he puts those influences to work is completely unique.

And then there are the lyrics. Back in the day, you could measure how "Christian" a song was by tracking it's JPM (Jesus Per Minute). The more often Jesus was mentioned, the more Christian the song was supposed to be. But Langston's lyrics are much more spiritually mature — there's no preaching, and you won't be knocked over the head by a Bible when you listen.

But you can tell that it's Christian music. Lyrics like "Yeah the force of water is a powerful thing/A symbol of the power and the force of the King ... So dip me in the water — Cleanse me in the water" from "It's A Powerful Thing" are pretty clearly Christian, but there's no bumper sticker sloganeering here. This is a faith that's meant to be lived, and shared, not plastered on the back end of your Ford.

At a time when so much of what passes for Christian music is incredibly shallow lyrically (and usually theologically as well) and derivative musically, Stephen Langston is a breath of fresh air. Singer/songwriters like him are reclaiming the heritage of Christian music, and providing a great alternative to cookie-cutter music in the process.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 04:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 20, 2006

Reviews Coming Soon!

Just to tantalize a bit, these are the books I'm going to be reviewing in the next few weeks/months:

  • The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever. This is a huge book, but I'm looking forward to digging in.
  • Triumphant Christianity by Martin Lloyd-Jones. Part 5 of his "Studies in the Book of Acts" series. Now I just have to buy the other four!!
  • Numbers: God's Presence in the Wilderness by Iain M. Duguid. Part of the "Preaching the Word" series -- which I also will probably have to have.
  • No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God by John S. Feinberg. Another huge book, but this one looks like it will be fascinating.
Since I've been on a somewhat enforced absence from Southern (you kinda need money to go to school there, you know!), my theological reading has been a bit lax. I've read a lot of computer/web design books (thanks to the folks at O'Reilly really liking my reviews) and some mystery (Maisie Dobbs especially). I have never actually stopped reading, but my reading list hasn't been what you would call intellectually challenging -- even though the books I've been reading have been awesome. I'm looking forward to digging into some more scholarly fare, secure in the knowledge that I have Season 3 of Superman: The Animated Series on DVD to review.
Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:38 PM | Comments (116) | TrackBack

July 06, 2006

Book Review: Why Christians Don't Vote For Democrats

The title of this book is a bit misleading, at least it was for me. I was expecting a complete diatribe about why good Christians should never, ever vote for Democrats, and why those who DO are actually not Christians at all. I was expecting a lot of venom, and I was, quite frankly, expecting to not like the book very much. And I was very wrong.

Why Christians Don't Vote For Democrats should be read by every Democratic strategist. Richard Miller is giving them the keys -- he's telling them exactly what they need to change to get the support of evangelical Christians. He's telling them why, for the most part, evangelical Christians don't vote for Democrats. There's no venom -- how could there be, when two of Miller's own daughters are registered Democrats?

This is not a long book -- it's really not hard to show why evangelicals are not voting for Democrats. But the material is presented in a way that a Democrat could read it and, rather than being offended, realize the gulf that separates them from evangelicals.

Miller makes a lot of statements in the book, though, that I would have liked to have seen expanded. We read that "secular Democrats" want to lower the age of consent, don't believe that the teachings of Jesus or Moses have any value, don't want Christians to be able to afford to send their kids to Christian schools, etc. I would have liked to have seen these generalities detailed a bit more -- specific quotes from specific Democratic leaders, for example. A Christian Democrat reading this would of course say "No I don't." Specific examples would have been a welcome addition to the book in these cases.

Miller's purpose in writing this books seems to have been to make people think -- both Democrats and Republicans. He's achieved that goal; there's a lot of material presented in the book that should make people think. As I said, he's provided Democratic leadership with a rough guide to gaining the trust of evangelical Christian voters, if they will read it and listen.

Why Christians Don't Vote For Democrats by Richard Miller, published by Xulon Press. 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 12:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 29, 2006

By Semi-Popular Demand

I've had several search-engine hits from people looking for a review of Artemis Fowl. I never posted one here, though I've referred to the books before. I've read the entire series, though, and reviewed it at Blogcritics. So you don't have to leave, and to keep from disappointing any more visitors, here's the review. It's a bit brief, but it gives a good overview of the series.

Amid the furror over the Harry Potter books, there is a series geared toward young readers that is consistently being missed. The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer is entertaining reading that should be at the top of any teenager's reading list.

The first book, simply titled Artemis Fowl, sets the stage well. We meet Artemis himself—a deviously clever 12-year-old, far more inteligent than his years, and too intelligent by far for the good of anyone he meets. He is the heir to the Fowl family fortune—and the criminal empire that obtained that fortune. He has hit upon the idea of a lifetime—he's discovered the existance of the world of fairy folk, and is intent on exploiting that world for his own gain.

The second book is entitled The Arctic Incident. The setting should be obvious from that title—what isn't is how our heroes get there. Artemis' father. who was missing and presumed dead, has been found—and is being held by the Russian Mafia. Artemis needs the help of the fairy folk from book one to pull off a rescue attempt that is so crazy that it just might work ...

The third book, The Eternity Code, is (in my opinion) the weakest of the series so far. Artemis' latest get rich quick scheme is to sell fairy technology on the open market. He's double-crossed, and the fairy realm is in danger of being discovered by men! So it's off to his friends from the LEP to try and save the world one more time.

I just finished reading book four, The Opal Deception. Artemis has lost all memory of the fairy realm, and is back to his old self. But something's wrong in the fairy realm, and this time, the fairy folk need Artemis' help!

The characterization in the series is outstanding, as we see Artemis mature and change from a greedy pre-teen to an almost-mature teenager. The supporting cast is also well-written, especially Butler. Though the third volume was a bit disappointing, the fourth more than made up for it, and I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. Collectors may want to take note: the hardcover versions of the books have messages written in code at the bottom of each page. As far as I know, the key is only in the first book, but it's fairly easy to break the code without the key (and much more fun).

Teenagers and pre-teens need more good books to read, and parents need to know that Harry isn't the only game in town. Artemis Fowl is an excellent series, recommended to kids of all ages.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 22, 2006

Book Review: He Said It! I Did It!

When you get a book that's subtitled "Lessons From My Father on Mastering Personal Finance" and see that it includes Bible study questions at the end of each chapter, you think many different things. The first thing I thought when I saw this book and read the press release that came with it was "prosperity gospel."

Thankfully, that is not the case with this book. Charles Buffington III has written this book as a guide to managing your finances with a goal in mind -- and the goal is to use the wealth you get to help others. Wealth is not an end unto itself -- it is a means to an end. The book is really, first and foremost, about stewardship: putting the resources that you have been entrusted with to the best use possible not just for yourself, but for others.

Buffington recognizes that for the average American, debt is a huge problem. In fact, debt has a power to enslave people -- we are stuck in jobs we hate because we have bills to pay. How many of us have ever sat back and said "If I just had these bills paid off, I would..." But unlike so many other writers, he also recognizes that some debt is not avoidable. He breaks debt down into two categories -- constructive debt and toxic debt. Constructive debt is your home mortgage, or your business loan. Toxic debt is the payments on that new plasma TV, or the even bigger car. Constructive debt should be minimized; toxic debt should be avoided.

So many of these "get out of debt and stay that way" books have a very preachy tone. Reading many of them, I feel like I'm in college again, and my father is lecturing me about using and abusing credit. In He Said It! I Did It!, we learn with Buffington, from his father. Each chapter begins with a conversation with Charles Buffington II, where we get an overview of what the chapter is going to teach us. This makes it a lot easier to read -- we know that the author isn't a know it all, because he had to learn these lessons, too, just as we are.

Many of the lessons in the book are common sense: stay out of debt, live below your means, save, invest, etc. We all know that we should do those things. Where the book becomes most valuable is in its example. We see someone who, just like most of us, has heard the lessons but not lived them. He's in the same boat we're in. But he applies these lessons, and ends up better off. He's able to do things for people because he's got the means to do it. He sets a goal, and achieves it by applying the lessons his father teaches him. And those lessons are lessons his father also learned the hard way, so we have two people with whom we can identify. That encouragement, that knowing that these things really do work, is where the book is the most valuable.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 12:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

Book Review: The DaVinci Codebreaker by James L. Garlow

Whenever you read anything about The DaVinci Code, for or against, you are going to be bombarded by buzzwords and jargon. Often, these buzzwords are used by different authors in different ways, which can lead to some serious confusion. Historical references are also made that they just didn't cover in your high school World History class.

That's where this book comes in handy. The DaVinci Codebreaker was originally intended to be a glossary in Dr. Garlow's previous book, Cracking DaVinci's Code, but had to be left out for space considerations. It serves as an excellent resource for anyone confused by the jargon and pseudo-history that permeates The DaVinci Code.

One of the most valuable entries in the book is the section covering the canon. Garlow offers an excellent overview of the process of canonization, and includes a chart listing each book (or section, in the case of the OT canon) and the reasons for inclusion or exclusion. He also gives us a timeline showing approximately when each book under discussion was written, as well as valuable comparisons between the various canons held by different churches.

Garlow also points out factual errors in The DaVinci Code, whetting the appetite for broader discussion. A few examples:

  • Dan Brown contends that the vote at the Council of Nicea was a close one. The fact is that the orthodox view affirming Jesus' full divinity AND full humanity was passed 316 to 2. Hardly a close vote.
  • The DaVinci Code states that in the Gospel of Phillip (third century), Mary Magdalene is referred to using the Aramaic word for companion, which (in Brown's character's words) "any Aramaic scholar will tell you ... literally means 'spouse'." Unfortunately, the oldest copy og The Gospel of Phillip that we have is written in Coptic, not Aramaic, and there is no evidence that an Aramaic copy ever even existed.
  • It is erroneously stated in The DaVinci Code that Constantine "converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity." Greek and Roman paganism were FAR from matriarchal, but beyond that, Constantine gave paganism and Christianity equal status, and paganism was practiced long after Constantine was gone.

Just a few examples. If you want more, you need to read this book. I personally found this reference more valuable than many of the DaVinci debunking books out there, just because Garlow presents the bare facts in an easy to use format. This belongs on everyone's bookshelf, regardless of your opinion of The DaVinci Code.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 09:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2006

Book Review: The Last Cato by Matilde Asensi

It's very tempting for me to write a scathing review of this book. I could rant about The Da Vinci Code-esque revisionist church history, and incite Christians everywhere to protest the book. But I won't, for a few reasons.

One - like I could get more than a dozen Christians to actually listen to me, much less do what I want them to. Two - the book's good.

The premise: there is a secret society -- similar to the legendary Grail Knights -- tasked with protecting the True Cross, on which Christ was crucified. They have infiltrated every part of the Church all over the world, protecting the fragments of the Cross that have been strewn all over Christendom, with one goal: To bring them all back together, under their control.

The book begins with a series of robberies, and a mysterious corpse. Pieces of the True Cross are being stolen, and the corpse is one of the thieves. He bears intricate body art -- ritual scarification, the result of his induction into the mysterious group known as the Staurofilakes -- the protectors of the Cross.

Vatican paleographer Ottavia Salina is called on to help investigate the crimes, and bring the Staurofilakes back into fellowship with the Catholic Church - by force, if need be. Accompanied by a member of the Swiss Guard and an atheistic professor, she begins her investigation. Aided by clues provided by Dante's Divine Comedy, they move closer and closer to the mysterious group - even as they receive the very same ritual scars as the dead thief.

There is a growing sub-genre of religious fiction - the skeptical, gnostic-based thriller novel. The Da Vinci Code is, of course, the most famous example of this genre, and is responsible for its popularity today. The Da Vinci Code, though, was originally published in 2003, though -- The Last Cato was originally published in 2001, in Spanish. So this is not an example of an author jumping on the bandwagon. It's a wonderfully written story, with healthy doses of skepticism toward religion. The skepticism is not heavy-handed -- in most cases, it's mentioned in passing, with no 'proselytizing' as Dan Brown tends toward in his book. Readers would be well-advised to get a copy of The Divine Comedy as a reference as they read this book, but the important passages are quoted in the book, so that's not essential. You'll never read Dante the same way again, I can promise you that.

Characterization in the book isn't overt or heavy-handed, but by the end you feel like you really know these three people. You sympathize with Ottavia's struggles and her anguish over the direction her life seems to be taking her. By the end, you're pondering the irony in her statement that "Life doesn't drag you along if you don't let it."

One minor quibble with the book, or actually the translation. Latin names are often mishandled, it seems. Eusebius is left Eusebio, for example, almost as if the Spanish name had been left alone, rather than being translated to the proper Latin name. A minor detail, at best, but it did grate on the church historian in me to see familiar names rendered incorrectly.

One reason I would start a protest over the book is that the result of such action seems clear - people will read the book to see what all the fuss is about. And this is a book that deserves to be read. And it didn't borrow anything from Holy Blood, Holy Grail. That in itself deserves high praise indeed. I didn't read The Da Vinci Code, but if this is the type of book publishers are picking up because of Dan Brown's success, then we owe him thanks. Just remember that the book was written two years before Brown's book, and you'll enjoy it even more.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 03:54 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

Book Review: How to Be Your Own Publicist by Jessica Hatchigan

How to Be Your Own Publicist is written by an award-winning writer and publicist. This made me a bit nervous right away; I was afraid that the book would either be overly technical and thus inaccessible, or extremely basic (I've had some experience with overly basic business books).

Thankfully, I found the book to be neither. How to Be Your Own Publicist finds a great middle-ground between people who just want to get attention for their cause/business/writing/blog and people who are getting ready to head up the PR department in their own small business. The book is easilly accessible for those with no marketing background, with plenty of meat for people with more experience.

The most valuable part of the book for me were the sections on creating press kits and writing press releases. I'm looking at moving my podcasting beyond just a hobby, and I learned a lot that I can use to promote both my podcasts and myself as a podcaster. I'll be making use of those ideas in the very near future. There are also valuable sections on getting yourself recognized as an "expert" in your field -- leading to radio and TV interviews where you can let people know about your product/service/company. Hatchigan also covers what not to do, including the infamous "soup to nuts" speeches where you overload your audience with too much information. She also cautions budding publicity hounds to use "publicity stunts" with great care -- don't let the stunt overshadow what you're trying to promote. This reminds me of commercials that I see all the time -- witty, memorable skits that leave you humming the tune but wondering what they were trying to sell.

Knowing how to attract attention to your business -- or your blog, or your podcast -- is important. Being able to create not only an impression, but also a memory -- and a good one -- is also important. How to Be Your Own Publicist shows you how to do both.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 06:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

Book Review: The Witness by Dee Henderson

Amanda Griffin is a woman on the run. And trouble seems to keep following her, everywhere she goes. But now, the trouble has found her family, and she has to make some hard decisions regarding her own life: does she keep on running, as she has been for the past eight years, or does she come in out of the cold?

I've never read Dee Henderson before, though I know people who read her regularly. The Witness is a great mystery/thriller -- it's a page turner, with a lot more action that I expected. I never thought I'd get as caught up in the book as I did -- there were nights when I literally could not make myself put the book down. It was always "One more chapter. One more chapter."

The character relations are a bit too convenient, though. Police chief and two detectives fall for three sisters who are all involved in this mystery, one of whom is on the run from organized crime in New York. Some of the pieces seem to fit together a little too well, some of the situations a little too contrived. But the book flows very well, and is a really quick read -- fast paced, just like life on the run. This will be a great beach book this summer, and is a good front-porch-reading book (you mean you don't do that??) right now.

There's even a study guide in the back of the book for your Christian fiction readers club. But whatever you do -- don't read it until you finish the book. One plot twist is hinted at, and one fatality is totally mentioned. I made the mistake, and it ruined the shock for me.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 09:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2006

Book Review: Credo by Ray Pritchard

Christianity is a confessional faith. Even those who proudly proclaim "No creed but Christ" are, in fact, living by a creed of sorts. After all, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10, ESV) Confession is as important to our belief.

Throughout history, the Church has put together documents that set forth essential Christian beliefs. These creeds are important parts of our history, because we can see how people thought about the Bible, and how important doctrines were formulated and defended based on Scripture.

There is a part of Protestant Christianity that doesn't like creeds -- "too Roman" they say. This is a book that I'd like to get every single person who thinks that, because it will change their minds. In this book, Ray Pritchard goes to great lengths to show that the Apostles' Creed is based solidly on the Bible, and that it is as relevent for us today as it was to the Christians in the 3rd century when it was written.

The book is not a church history text, nor is it a theological treatise. In fact, it reads like a sermon series (which it is most likely based on, as Pritchard mentions in the book that he has preached through the Apostles' Creed before).

He starts off with a great chapter on how the Apostles' Creed came to be, and why it is so important. This is an important starting point, since many evangelicals have abandoned the ancient creeds in favor of something more "relevent" or "modern." Pritchard does a good job in establishing exactly why a look at the Apostles' Creed can be valuable to the church today.

Then he takes us through the creed, phrase by phrase. This is an outstanding way to lay the book out, and I think that as pastors read this, they'll be taking notes and making outlines -- I know I was.

The only weak point in the book was chapter 10, covering "He descended into Hell ...". I've always thought that this part of the creed was a later addition, and that it lacked Biblical support. Pritchard makes a good case for its inclusion, and shows how to teach this part of the creed, but I'm not sure the case is made for it's inclusion in the creed to begin with.

Credo is an outstanding book. At a time when Christians are increasingly ignorant of what they believe, and why they believe it, more people need to read this book. The essentials of Biblical Christianity are in the Apostles' Creed for everyone to read. And believe.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Book Review: Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler

I actually read this a while ago, and the review has been up at Blogcritics, but I got a search engine hit from someone looking for a critique of the book, and realized I'd never posted the review here. I enjoyed the book, though Feiler is far from evangelical in his conclusions. In fact, by the end of the book I was convinced that he'd embraced Zoroastrianism, but he never actually comes out and says it. Here's my review, as it appeared on the first of November last year:

Bruce Feiler's Where God Was Born takes us on a journey that is both physical and spiritual. Physically, we follow Feiler as he explores Israel in search of Biblical locations, map in one hand, Bible in the other. Spiritually, we accompany Feiler as he tries to rediscover the spiritual peace he found after his first book, Walking the Bible.

From the outset, we encounter an Israel that is very diferent from the one we see in Feiler's other books. His group is beset with obstacles thrown up by the Israeli Army in the name of 'security.' He encounters victims of suicide bombings first hand. He is watched by armed gunmen (Israeli and Palestinian) everywhere he goes.

The journey starts with the seath of Moses and the conquest of Canaan. We see Joshua's battles from the perspective of Yoram Yair -- one of the most decorated generals in Israel's history. He gives us a valuable perspective, especially on the battle of Jericho. We then follow the life of David, from shepherd to hero to renegade, revolutionary, possibly even terrorist, to (finally) king of a unified nation. We wade through the tunnels under Jerusalem, following in the footsteps of Biblical archaeologists like Edward Robinson, Charles Warren, even Montague Parker and Father Hughes Vincent. We encounter the vertical shaft that David allegedly used to invade the city of Jerusalem, and find ourselves wondering exdactly how he did it. We see David's failings and shortcomings, and find ourselves relieved that he was, after all, human.

Feiler then turns from the political center of the nation to it's spritual center -- the Temple Mount.

"What if we try to circumnavigate the Temple Mount?"
"It can't be done. It's too dangerous"
"So where do we start?"
We learn a great irony -- while Jews and Christians are incensed that the Muslims have co-opted their sacred site at the Temple Mount, David did the same thing with an existing Jebusite sacred site when he selected the location for the Temple. Feiler reminds us that "religious rights and wrongs cannot be refereed by claiming first dibs," -- something that should be remembered when considering the conflict in the Middle East. Feiler elsewhere notes that, in the Bible, it isn't living in the land that is important -- it is living in obedience to God in the land. Christians who pledge their unconditional loyalty to the current secular state of Israel would do well to remember that.

We also see that, as magnificent as Solomon's temple seems to us, it wasn't significantly different from other contemporary religious structures. It's as if the point is to teach us that God's greatness isn't proclaimed by the grandeur of the buildings we build for Him. We also see the problems that politics can create for archaeologists, especially around the highly-charged Temple Mount -- even to the point of creating buildings that are structurally unstable in order to keep others off the mount.

As if exploring the Temple Mount area wasn't dangerous enough, Feiler decides to head to Babylon -- modern day Iraq. He looks to the land of Israel's exile, where the leaders weren't judges or kings, but the prophets. Feiler spends a good bit of time in the book exploring the Babylonian connection, and he ties the beliefs and traditions of the Babylonians in to the creation of the faith that we know today as Judaism -- though there is still a lot of discussion among scholars as to how much influence there really was.

The theme that seems to run through each of Feiler's books is a quest for unity in the midst of diversity. Feiler treats the Bible with great respect, often skewering liberal criticisms of the texts, but just as often questioning conservative interpretations. Each time I read one of his books, I gain a greater appreciation for the Biblical texts that I hadn't before. I don't always agree with Feiler's interpretations or decisions regarding the text, but I always find his assertions to be thought provoking. And that is far more important.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006

Book Review: The Secret of the Swamp King

Book two of the Wilderking Trilogy opens with Aiden Errolson serving in the court of King Darrow of Corenwald. Actually, it opens with Aiden and Darrow's son Steren hunting a wild boar, but Aiden is, in fact, at court. Aiden is loved by everyone at court -- everyone except Darrow.

Darrow is tired of hearing about how heroic Aiden is. About how he defeated the giant Golia -- I mean Greidawl, and helped drive the Pyrthan invaders out of Corenwald. He's threatened -- he thinks Aiden is after the throne.

So he sends Aiden on a quest, to prove his loyalty. Aiden is sent to retrieve a legendary flower that is said to have the ability to cure the King's depression. But the flower is located in the heart of the Feechiefen Swamp -- and nobody who has ever entered the swamp has come out again.

Aiden isn't worried -- he has the friendship of the feechies, and the mark to prove it. But as he progresses, he grows more and more worried. There's something wrong in the Feechiefen Swamp -- there are feechies who pay no attention to the feechie laws, and who use metal weapons. And there's a new king in the swamps.

The Wilderking.

I enjoyed this book even more than the first one. For one thing, it's less derivative than the first book, even though the close friendship between Aiden and Steren was predictable, as was Darrow's depression and hatred of Aiden. But the focus of this book is on the feechies -- which should please Rogers' fans.

The feechies really make this series. Their simplicity, their sense of honor, and their commitment to their values illustrate everything that is wrong with civilizer society. And they're really funny to read -- especially out loud.

This series is high on my must-read list. I've got to make sure I get a copy of Book 3 (Amazon says it should be out in May of this year) so I can find out how this ends.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 01:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Book Review: The Bark of the Bog Owl

There is a distinct lack of good fiction geared toward young people, specifically ages 10-14. Harry Potter isn't an option for some families. Artemis Fowl isn't nearly as well-known (which is unfortunate).

Now there's another option. Jonathan Rogers has written The Wilderking Trilogy, and offers us a series for young readers that is fun, exciting, and based on Christian ideals and principles.

Book 1, The Bark of the Bog Owl, was actually released back in 2004. The premise is familiar to Christians -- a young boy, Aiden Errolson, tending his father's sheep, is chosen by a mysterious prophet to be the next King -- the Wilderking, who comes to lead his people back to prominence in the world, and to reclaim the traditional ideals that the people have forgotten.

The only real weakness in this first book is that the main plot is far too predictable. Once I read that Aiden was a shepherd, I had a feeling that this would be the story of King David retold. Then the Phillist -- I mean, the Pyrthens -- show up with their "peace treaty," which leads to war. Then Aiden goes to his brothers at the front carrying cheese and other food. And guess what? There's this giant ...

That said, I really enjoyed this book. The subplots involving the aboriginal "feechies" is very enjoyable, especially the Feechiefeast that Aiden enjoys. The characters are familiar, but still deep. It's going to be interesting to see Aiden mature over the course of the next two books, and it's a relief to read about a boy who is actually boyish -- he likes to roam, play, and have adventures. He's a twelve-year-old who writes to the King volunteering his services as "an adventurer." And suddenly, he's got a huge responsibility dropped on him. He reacts the way any normal kid would react.

Rogers has a Ph.D in 17th Century English Lit, but this book reads as if he'd spent his academic career studying 18th Century American literature instead. The differences in dialect between feechie and 'civilizer' are distinct, American dialects, and the setting certainly reminds me of the American southeast -- fitting, since Rogers grew up in Georgia. The series has promise, and after I finished this book I was relieved that I'd gotten the second one to review as well. THAT review will be up in a half hour or so ...

Posted by Warren Kelly at 12:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 03, 2005

Book Review: In the Beginning, There Were No Diapers by Tim Bete

Five pages into this book, I put it down, looked over at my wife, and said, "When I finish this book, you HAVE to read it." This is not a decision that I recommend, though -- once you say this, you automatically forfeit your rights to read significant passages from the book out loud to everyone in the room. And that is something that you'll want to do -- many, many times.

I was able to really identify with Bete as he talked about his experiences with babies -- especially potty training, and the trials of getting a child to eat more than hot dogs and chicken nuggets. But even the stories that I couldn't directl relate to were stories I could enjoy, and laugh at.

Bete's stories ring very true to parents, who can at least sympathise with his many misadventures and anxieties. He writes as if he is the parental version of Everyman (call him "Everydad"); even when parents cannot actually identify with a particular story, they can read and laugh, knowing that there, but for the grace of God, they go.

Bete also focuses on the "minor miracles" that happen every day in parenting. The day your child goes potty by themselves. The day they eat an actual vegetable without being threatened. His experiences also allow him to more fully appreciate many of the miracles in the Bible -- Jesus fed 5000 with bread and fish, and none of the kids complained, dropped their food, or wanted tartar sauce for their fish. Two miracles happened that day, but only a parent can appreciate the second miracle.

Tim Bete was once recommended to fill the shoes of Dave Barry after the latter's retirement. While their topics are not always the same, fans of Dave Barry will definitely see similarities in comedic style and sense of humor. But the himor isn't the best part.

Bete has an award-winning website that should be in every writer's bookmarks. He tracks the journey of this book from idea to published work, including tips that any new writer will find valuable. I know that I'll refer back to his site a lot in the very near future ...

And now, I need to get this copy of Tim's book to my wife, and remind her that I've already rad it, so she doesn't need to read it aloud to me. But I know she will anyway -- it's that funny.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 07:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

Review: Unlock the Prison Doors

I've had this one for a while -- it was actually the first book I volunteered for from Mind and Media. And yes, I got it free, but nobody paid me to write this -- as will probably become obvious to you.

This book is, first of all, tough to read in public. If you don't believe me, try taking a book subtitled "Keys to Breaking the Chains of Habitual Sin" to the doctor's office and reading it in the waiting room. Check out the looks you get. The nice thing is, you won't be crowded -- nobody will sit next to you.

The book was poorly edited -- there's a noticable typo on the very first page of text. Errors like this abound in the book -- it is almost as if they sent out proofers copies rather than a finished product. Typos, misspellings, and errors like that are glaring to me -- ironic, since I don't always catch them in my blog posts, but even there I will correct them once I see them. That illustrates the importance of having someone else look at your work before sending it out.

But a book, ultimately, is judged on what it says, not how it's spelled. The book has some promise; the topic is one that evry Christian struggles with at some point or other. But the book seems to be focused more at new Christians than at older saints. The tone is, as another reviewer has said, similar to a Sunday School teacher teaching a class of young children.

Read by a new Christian, this book could be valuable. It presents the material simply and quickly, with ample Scriptural support. But it doesn't say anything that most older Christians haven't heard before in church services. I looked forward to the book "provid[ing] ... a better understanding of [myself] and the trap of 'sin cycles' and the oppression of spiritual strongholds." I was disappointed.

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Book Review: The Thinking Toolbox

This book needs to be taught in America's classrooms. Desperately. If I was still teaching full time, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Now that the gushing is out of the way, let me expand on that. Critical thinking is an important skill that everyone needs to acquire. Unfortunately, critical thinking doesn't show up on standardized tests, so schools aren't as concerned about teaching it. And it shows.

This book makes it easy to teach your kids how to think critically. It goes into enough depth that it's valuable for kids of all ages, but it can easilly be taught to smaller kids. You can use this book at home, too -- no special skills are required, as long as you can read and think.

Two years ago, when I taught computer applications, I spent several weeks teaching my students about the internet, and how to evaluate the information they find there. I pointed out a site -- The site provides valuable information about the effects of a substance called dihydrogen monoxide, and its use in everyday life. Read the site, and you get outraged.

Then, the punchline. DHMO is ....................................... water. Dihydrogen (H2) monoxide (O). But everything the site says about water is true. The problem is in how it's presented. It's all about thinking critically -- taking facts and evaluating what they actually are saying.

That's what this book teaches. That is what kids need to learn. Just don't wait for the schools to do it -- get this book and do it yourself.

{And, yes, I got this book from Mind and Media for free. Nobody paid me to write the review -- if I thought the book was bad, you'd know it. The book is not just good -- it's important.}

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

Christian Parodies -- Paul Aldrich's Mock and Roll

I love parody. Weird Al, Cledus T. Judd, ApologetiX. Even Bob Rivers. So when I heard about Paul Aldrich's CD Mock 'n' Roll, I knew that it had to be mine.

I've now listened to it four times. I've only had it a day, or I'd have listened more, I promise. I made my wife listen to it. My daughter has listened to it. I've told my sister about it.

Do you get the idea I like this CD?

Songs like "Stairway to 7 Eleven," "The Mouse from Disneyland" (to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun") will get a laugh out of even the most jaded music fan. My wife loved the "Adam Sandler phase" song ("I've made millions/Acting like a fool./But you've paid millions to watch me/ What's that say about you?"). From the very beginning, this CD has a perfect combination of standup comedy and music parody that is incredibly entertaining.

If that was all this CD had going for it, it would be enough. But the message behind the song "It Seemed Like a Good Idea," and the heartfelt prayer in "Alter Me" show a serious side of this very funny man. This is an entertainer who would be perfect for a church group retreat or banquet, and yet equally comfortable doing a more mainstream show. In fact, the promotional DVD that came with this CD is going to my pastor this weekend -- maybe (the videos are funny as well).

Posted by Warren Kelly at 11:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 17, 2005

What I'm Reading on Vacation

I'm going to throw this into the reviews category, but it isn't really.

Everybody else is talking about the Harry Potter book. I'm not reading it. NOT because I think it's Satanic or will make me run around att the full moon naked or something. I'm just not interested in it. My wife is reading the series: she reads one every year at the beach (which is next week). This year she is reading book 4. So far, she hasn't started casting spells or riding broomsticks, so I think we're safe.

I figured since everyone else is talking about reading Harry Potter, I'll talk about all the OTHER things I'm reading.

Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten

I've read the rest of the Thursday Next series, and I've been looking forward to Something Rotten for quite some time now.

Mark Noll America's God

The only non-fiction book I'm taking with me to the beach, and another one I've been looking forward to.

Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen, Gettysburg

I read the second one first, unfortunately, so I have an idea as to how this one ends. But any alternate history that has the Civil War taking place in my old stomping grounds in Westminster, Maryland is a must read.

Jeff Shaara, To The Last Man

Jeff Shaara takes on World War I. I've been looking forward to this one for several months, ever since I saw him on CSPAN.

Terry Brooks, Jarka Ruus
I've read all the Shannara books, plus Terry Brooks' book on writing. I'm already over half-way through this one -- it might not last the trip down to the beach! {UPDATE}It didn't last. I finished this one last night. Might have to get the second one for the beach ...

Well, there you have it. My beach reading list. Every year I finish several books while we're down there, and this year will be no exception. Two rounds of golf, a day or two on the beach, and some quality book time. THAT'S what I call a vacation.

The only problem is that I don't know if I'll have internet access while we're gone. The power supply is gone on the old laptop, and a new one will run at LEAST $60 (IF the place still has them in stock; this laptop is nine years old). I'll hit the public library and find out if it's really public, and if so I'll post a little bit from there. Don't expect much, though -- it's a vacation, after all.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 11:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 14, 2005

Award Winning Book

Congrats to Nancy Pearcey, who has just been awarded the ECPA's Gold Medallion Award for best book in the category of “Christianity and Society” for her book Total Truth. I know that I enjoyed reading the book, and I would encourage others to read it, and take it's message to heart -- Christians need to live a consistent life, and need to realize that Christianity is a viable, rational worldview.

The press release for this announcement is below:

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 -- As America continues its heated debates on the role of religion in public life, Nancy Pearcey’s highly acclaimed book TOTAL TRUTH: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway) has won the 2005 ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best book in the category of “Christianity and Society.”

Pearcey, a former agnostic, has been heralded as "one of the few female intellectuals in evangelicalism" (The Evangelical Outpost). She is also a musician and a homeschooling mother. The prestigious award was announced at a celebration held in Denver, Colorado, on Monday, July 11, 2005. The ECPA reports that more than “1,000 publishers, retailers, authors, and industry colleagues” attended the evening’s festivities.

“There is much to be thankful for in receiving this award,” Pearcey said. “It is a positive sign that a ‘rock-the-boat’ book like TOTAL TRUTH could find a base of support among the grassroots of evangelical publishing.”

“The book rocks secular boats because it argues that God is a public figure," Pearcey explained. "It shows why secularists cannot simply relegate religion to the private realm of faith and feelings, which is the most common way of stripping Christianity of its power to challenge and redeem the whole of culture."

“But the book may also rock some evangelical boats," Pearcey said, "because it challenges a tendency to allow essentially secular principles to shape the way we do business in Christian circles, which hurts many people who are seeking authentic relationships and answers to life’s questions.”

Pearcey, who became a Christian at L'Abri Fellowship in the early 1970s, said, “I am thankful to Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who opened the door to doing this kind of worldview analysis."

Celebrating the news about TOTAL TRUTH are voices from the U.S. and Europe:

• “Delighted to hear about the Gold Medallion. Nancy's book TOTAL TRUTH is one of our top books here in Christian Heritage-Cambridge.”


Director, Christian Heritage-Cambridge

son-in-law of Francis and Edith Schaeffer

Cambridge, England


• TOTAL TRUTH is the “most important single book to have come out of the U.S.A. in recent years because it tackles the root-level misunderstandings which stop people from seeing that the message of Jesus brought, and still brings, individual liberties, social transformation, political freedom, and scientific, technological and economic progress.”


Chairman, Trinity Forum-Europe

Executive Director at Wolfsberg (subsidiary of UBS)

Zurich, Switzerland

• Congratulations to [editor-husband Rick] and Nancy!”


author, syndicated columnist

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

• “Nancy Pearcey has performed an important service to evangelicals in TOTAL TRUTH, and her Gold Medallion Award testifies that her kind is not yet extinct.”


author, syndicated columnist

Washington, D.C., area

Nancy Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute, where she teaches a worldview course based on the study guide edition of TOTAL TRUTH. After earning an M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary, she pursued further graduate work in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. Since 1977, she has been a pioneering thinker and writer on the interface between worldview and contemporary issues, such as modern science, and she is currently a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

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July 08, 2005

Total Truth Part 3: How We Lost Our Minds and Summary

Part 3 of Total Truth focuses on a topic that has generated a lot of discussion and controversy in recent years, and is a main part of Pearcey's thesis -- the anti-intellectualism of evangelical Christianity. Unfortunately, it's also the section of the book I had the most trouble with.

In her effort to show the First and Second Great Awakenings as a triumph of poulist religion of scholasticism, Pearcey ignores the scholarly traditions of the Baptist and Methodist denominations. Pearcey even ignores her own statistics at one point in asserting that the Baptists experienced "striking growth" along with the Methodists. 17% of Americans were baptists in 1776, compared to 20.5% in 1850 -- not what I would call "striking growth." Pearcey ignores the scholarly tradition of Baptist theologians like John Gill, Andrew Fuller, John L. Dagg, and Charles Spurgeon, as well as the Princeton trained James P. Boyce, who helped found the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as its first president until 1888. She focuses on the populist elements in the Baptist movement, choosing to only focus on the scholarly Presbyterians in a subsequent chapter. Scholarly Baptists get no mention at all -- it would have contradicted part of the thesis concerning the Great Awakenings.

This neglect is unfortunate, because Pearcey has some excellent points to make. The church in general prior to the Great Awakenings was cold and impersonal, caring little for evangelism. Pearcey recognizes the importance of the populists in awakening American spirituality even as she laments their rejection of the academy. She does not explore closely enough the failings of the academy that made them reject it, just that in rejecting it they effectively threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Pearcey's chapter on the role of women in the culture war is fascinating, and I'm sure it disappointed many of her critics to read her appraisal (and approval) of the expansive role women had prior to the Industrial Revolution. She uses this to illustrate how matters of virtue and morality became the domain of women (the temperence movement, for example) while matters of fact (science, business, etc.) became the domain of men. Virtue and spirituality became seen as effeminate, which Pearcey sees as leading to the "feminization of the Church." This is shown as yet another example of the split that Pearcey sees in modern philosophy -- the separation of "fact" and "faith" that she feels is a false dichotomy.

This book is not designed for non-Christians. I think this has been the biggest cause of poor reviews; the reviewers cannot relate to the target audience. It is not an anti-evolution book, though that theme is touched on. It is a book exhorting Christians to live a consistent life, and to realize that their faith is rational and a viable alternative to the dominant naturalistic worldview. It makes Christians aware of the presuppositions that many people have regarding faith and science, and encourages us to be aware of our own prejudices. And, finally, it is a rallying call for Chrisitans to reclaim our intellectual heritage.

It is a book whose time has come.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Jesus: An Intimate Portrait

{NOTE: This is my blogging review of the book Jesus: An Intimate Portrait by Leith Anderson. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

I haven't really finished the book I had intended to read before this one, but I found myself in need of some lighter fare after slogging through Part 2 of Total Truth. In looking at this book, and reading some of the reviews, I thought that it would be a fictionalized biography, similar to Taylor Caldwell's Lion of God and I, Judas -- both of which I have read and enjoyed. This book isn't what I thought it would be.

Anderson seems to be undecided about which direction to take his book -- fictionalized account or conversational non-fiction. The book certainly begins as if it were fictionalized, discussing the needs for the trip to Bethlehem and the condition of Mary. And much of the book is written in that vein.

But that is what makes the departures all the more jarring. And I'm not referring to the sidebars that Anderson has peppered throughout the book (which while helpful, would have been better appreciated as footnotes). The best example of this can be found in Anderson's discussion of Christ's childhood. He starts off, "Little is known about the rest of Jesus' childhood." While true, this is a somewhat jarring intrusion of a non-fiction narrative in the midst of an otherwise fictionalized account. I think this entire section could have been included as an appendix, with a note at the end of the chapter pointing readers to this further information.

The narrative that Anderson has written is tied so closely to the Biblical text that the book could simply have been marketed as a paraphrase of the four Gospels. I was expecting more; Anderson certainly has the knowledge to have written something on the scale of Caldwell's works, but doesn't here. I also didn't gain much more understanding of the land or the people, certainly not the "intimate portrait" promised by the subtitle. That can be excused as the error of a marketing executive with an overactive imagination (and an overused thesaurus). Unfortunately, the expectation that this marketing ploy creates is not fulfilled in the book, and that is the ultimate criteria by which the book should be judged.

I think this book is a good resource, particularly for new Christians who want to study the Gospels but are intimidated by studying the Biblical text directly. For nonChristians who have not read the Gospels, this book is a good introduction to Christ's life as portrayed in the Gospels. But the book fell short of my expectations, and that is unfortunate.

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Total Truth: Part 2 -- Starting at the Beginning

In Part 2, Pearcey takes on Darwinism. This is the chapter that raises the ire of most critics -- the majority of the negative reviews on only mention this section, leaving me to wonder if the "reviewers" have even read the whole book.

Pearcey's focus is not biology, however. She is looking closely at the philosophical implications of Darwinism, and the impact that philosophical Darwinism has had on modern thought. She also laments the lack of debate on such a controversial topic. It seems that even scientists who subscribe to intelligent design (which, contrary to the opinion of its critics, is not necessarilly a Christian model) are left out of substantive debate on the subject of origins, which is puzzling to me. If Darwinian evolution has been proven (as so many claim) then defeating the opposing ideas should be simple. Time and again, however, ID theorists are turned down for debate: it seems that the mere act of debating them would somehow give ID credibility.

The implications of Darwinian thought are disturbing. Pearcey's discussions of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are fascinating, especially when propponents of those sciences are quoted. Pearcey quotes liberally from Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, and Robert Wright. Each of these men have taken the implications of Darwinian evolutionary thought to it's logical end, and each have been attacked by other evolutionary scientists for their conclusions. Most evolutionists do not want to accept the implications: that as man evolved physically, so did he evolve socially. Our "bad behavior" is not a moral problem; it is a throwback to prior evolutionary stages, and is therefore, in some way, to be expected and excused.

Everey field of study has been impacted by evolutionary thought. Pearcey mentions business, sociology, education, etc. as examples of areas outside of science that have been influenced by Darwinism. This influence on worldview should give Christians pause, and make us think more fully about what we are being taught. By fully integrating our own worldview in our lives, we can be prepared for this conflict, and more fully articulate our own beliefs in opposition to the naturalism-influenced evolutionary thought that is advocated so often in society.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Total Truth: Part 1 -- What's in a Worldview?

{NOTE: This is the first part of my blogging review of the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

If you've read any of Francis Schaeffer's books, especially Escape from Reason, the first section of Pearcey's book will seem very familiar. If you aren't familiar with Schaeffer's work, this section serves as an excellent summary (but you STILL need to read Schaeffer!). This shouldn't surprise anyone -- after all, Pearcey studied under Schaeffer at L'Abri, and is the Francis Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute. This section, and it's explanation of the dualistic nature of much of modern thought, is the foundation of the rest of the book.

Pearcey opens by tracing the development of modern thought from Plato to postmodernism, and points out the inherent dualism in each stage of development. She spends a good bit of time on Kant, which is good, but I'd have liked to have seen more attention paid to David Hume. I think his philosophy has influenced much of modern thought, so it was a bit disappointing to me that Hume received little mention in the book.

One of the strengths in this book, especially in this first section, is Pearcey's use of quotations from people who illustrate perfectly her point, but who are on "the other side" in terms of epistemology. Particularly this quote from Steven Pinker from MIT:

Ethical theory requires idealizations like free, sentient, rational, equivalent agents whose behavior is uncaused ... [but]the world, as seen by science, does not really have uncaused events."

The dilema, as Pearcey sees it, is that ethics and morality require something that science cannot quantify or prove. Science is trying to tie morality to genetics, but the results have, so far, been unconvincing. The result has been the building of a wall between "fact" (defined by science) and "faith" (as defined by religion or spirituality).

This dualism has the result of relegating all spiritual matters, all religion, to the level of "personal opinion" -- we can't know facts about then, because spirituality and science do not mix, and science is the only way to learn facts about something. Thus we have people who declare that there is no religious absolute (fact), and so Christians need to back off with all of our claims of absolute truth. Pearcey is knowledgeable of the arguements that will be placed against her, and does a decent job of backing her position with specific examples.

The goal of Christianity should be to offer a "unified, integrated truth" that encompasses all areas of our lives. Too often, Christians relegate their faith to Sunday mornings, and live the rest of the time as if religion cannot intersect with "real life." As a direct result, we now have Christian ghettos, where we listen to our Christian music sitting in our Christian coffeeshops reading our Christian literature, and never, ever interacting with anyone else. THEN we wonder why people think that faith should be left out of public life -- they believe that because we do.

In the next part of this review, I will look at Pert 2 of the book, in which Pearcey tackles the idea of philosophical Darwinism and it's impact on modern culture.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 01:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 4: Conclusion

One of the things that I was hoping to gain from this book is an explanation of Lewis' alleged heterodoxy. I've heard him accused of universalism. I've heard that he believed in Purgatory. From reading Mere Christianity, I can tell he was fairly ecumenical. Martindale defends Lewis from the first two charges in this work.

Against the charge of universalism, Martindale points out that in Lewis' works people DO go to Hell. They deserve to be there; in fact, in The Great Divorce, the choose to go there. If anything, Lewis could be accused of being slightly inclusivistic -- he believes that people are judged based on the grace they have been given, rather than professing faith in a Christ they have never known about. I certainly would disagree with Lewis on that point, as many evangelicals would.

Lewis's stand on Purgatory is interesting. He sees Purgatory as the vehicle by which we are sanctified before we enter Heaven, rather than a "second chance" for non-believers to get their act together to get into Heaven. I agree that believers are made pure by the working of the Holy Spirit; I disagree that it happens after death.

We need to remember that for all his great intellect, and his obvious writing talent, that Lewis was not a theologian. He was an academician, and very intelligent, and an apologist without equal in his day. But he was not theologically trained, and we should not use him to determine our theology. If he was wrong, we can say that he was wrong without having to abandon the ideas that he got right.

Much of Martindale's book is literary criticism: he looks closely at the symbols and imagery that Lewis uses, and shows their meaning in terms of Heaven and Hell. He assumes that the reader has at least a passing familiarity with Lewis' work, which I am increasingly aware that I do not have. The Space Trilogy is referenced many times -- I have put reading that trilogy at the top of my must read list. I've decided that I really need to start reading more C.S. Lewis -- the weekly readings out of Mere Christianity aren't enough. And I'm buying the Narnia set to read to my daughter.

The benefits of reading this book are numerous. I've gained an appreciation for C.S. Lewis beyond what I already had. But more importantly, my desire for heaven and my outlook on the afterlife has been slightly changed. More than a merely spiritual existance, we have a life to look forward to -- a life full of enjoyment and pleasure, unburdened by the worry and bondage of sin. We will be able to do what we want, because our desires will be pure.

This book should be on the shelf of anyone who reads and enjoys Lewis' works, both fiction and nonfiction. It should also be on the shelf of anyone who is interested in learning some very different ways of looking at both Heaven and Hell.

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Beyond the Shadowlands Part 3: Remythologizing Heaven and Hell

I need to interject a definition here, because without it many people will miss the point, or assume something that is not the case. It concerns the use of the word "myth" and how it's used and misunderstood.

Obviously, a myth is usually regarded as an ancient story that was, at one time, an explanation of things that people saw but couldn't understand or explain, but that we now know are totally untrue. We speak of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology in this sense. Many people have extended this use of the word to include any religious writings at all.

The term can also be used of any story that helps us to understand a concept that we can otherwise not understand. We accept the truth of what the story is trying to tell us without accepting the idea that the story is a retelling of factual occurrances. Both meanings of the word are used in this book, and it can get confusing unless we are careful to define terms beforehand.

Having discussed various misunderstandings (or myths in the first sense of the word), Martindale turns his focus to the second, and specifically writings by Lewis that try to convey to us what Heaven and Hell are like. Lewis really never claims that his descriptions are totally accurate or true -- he recognizes that we don't know what Heaven and Hell are like until we get there. Martindale emphsthe value of myth in helping us understand things that we really cannot understand, while emphasizing thaat the stories are just that -- stories.

Lewis' works contain a lot of truth concerning Heaven. Martindale goes through the space trilogy, The Great Divorce, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Till We Have Faces, and shows how Lewis describes Heaven in each book. Each book deals with a different aspect of Heaven -- the very concept of Heaven itself, it's inhabitants, the standing of the inhabitants of Earth, the idea of reality now compared to reality in Heaven, our sense of awe and wonder at Heaven, which includes all five senses, and the desire of all Christians to be in Heaven. Lewis also manages to illustrate exactly what the fall cost us in terms of our enjoyment of life on Earth.

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May 10, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 2: Myths about Hell

In the next section I want to discuss (though it's chapter 8 in the book), Martindale (and C.S. Lewis) take on the various myths that we have constructed concerning Hell. We don't like to think about Hell. We don't like to talk about it. It's politically incorrect to tell other people that they might be going there (unless you're using profanity). But the fact is that Hell is a reality, and it is a severe, final punishment to all who persist in their rebellion against God. Lewis once said that there are two people in the world: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done."

Martindale goes into a lot of depth discussing Lewis' feelings towards Hell. In most of the writings he cites, it's clear that Lewis is writing as a lay person (though a very gifted and intelligent one), not a theologian. Theological purists will cringe at Lewis' tale of Susan and Frank in The Great Divorce, where Frank is taken from Hell to the gate of Heaven and allowed to talk to Susan (his wife) who is in Heaven -- and is given an opportunity to turn from his sin and enter heaven, even though he is already in Hell. Lewis is trying to illustrate the idea that people in Heaven will not be sad or depressed about their loved ones in Hell, because of the fullness of the love of Christ they experience in Heaven. This is true, but I think the method that Lewis uses is not the best. Martindale attempts to defend Lewis' language, to some success, but ultimately falls short, IMHO.

Lewis does take great pains to show that Hell is NOT a place to be desired ("all the cool people will be there," "non-stop party in Hell," etc.). It is a place of eternal physical and mental torment. Sometimes, in our desire to emphasize the goodness and love of God, we forget about the reality of eternal punishment in Hell. When we do this, we leave out an important part of the Gospel.

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May 07, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 1: Myths about Heaven

{This is the first part of the actual review. The introduction can be found here. I plan on at least four parts to this review, because of the nature of the book.}
In the first part of the book, Martindale deal with seven common myths concerning heaven. He shows that these are misconceptions based on a LOT of factors, including an attitude that any physical pleasure is inherantly sinful, so we won't have any fun in heaven.

We tend to get so focused on how much we enjoy life here that we think we won't enjoy heaven. We forget that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)" If we enjoy life here on earth, how much more will we enjoy life in heaven!

Martindale refers to Lewis' Space Trilogy quite a bit in this section. Clearly, I've missed out in not reading this trilogy, so it's been put on my list. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether Martindale's comparisons are accurate in this regard -- but the man is a Lewis scholar of some reknown, so I trust his opinions until I have reason to do otherwise.

The book thus far is very well written -- it's not written on a scholarly, academic level, so it's accessible to anyone. The only annoying aspect is the use of "Lewis's" as the posessive. I've been told that that form is now accepable, and since Martindale is an English teacher, I would think he would know about correct usage, but it's annoying to me. Very minor thing, and it won't spoil my enjoyment of this book.

In my next review post, I'll take a look at the section on the myths about Hell -- another nice thing about this book is that you can read the sections out of sequence if you choose to. And I choose to, if for no other reason than it's different.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 06:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands: Introduction

{NOTE: This is the first part of my blogging review of the book Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell by Dr. Wayne Martindale. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

This post originally appeared at the old site on 4/10/2005. I am including it here so that the entire review will be on one site.

I am looking forward to this book, just from reading the author's Introduction. This quote will give you an idea why: "Somewhere in the back of my mind, quite unconsciously, Heaven was an extended, boring church service like those I had not yet learned to appreciate on earth -- with this exception: You never got to go home to the roast beef dinner."

Kids do tend to look at Heaven in just that way. Unfortunately, our misconceptions of Heaven often continue into adulthood. This book promises to skewer those myths, and the myths associated with Hell as well, and show how Lewis portrayed the reality of Heaven and Hell, and the myths we often have about them, in his books.

I've decided to blog about this book as I read it, and not simply do one single post on it -- mainly because I think the book deserves more than just a one-shot post. I think that it is very important for Christians to have a proper idea of what Heaven and Hell really are, and to know what the potential troubles are with incorrect assesments of both places. I plan on spending at least one post on the fist section of the book (which details seven myths people believe about Heaven), and one on the third (detailing six popular myths about Hell). The second and fourth sections, in which Dr. Martindale explores Lewis' treatment of Heaven and Hell in his fiction, may require more than one post each. When I'm finished, I'll offer one post giving my own opinion of the book, and will add links in each post to the other posts in the 'series' so that it will be easier to jump back and forth between posts.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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