Saturday, June 30, 2007
Driven by Eternity is John Bevere's book on Christian, eternity-minded living. Everyone dies, and to live like you aren't going to is simply foolish. More importantly, if the Bible is true, what we do in our lives has serious, eternal consequences. This book is about how we, as Christians, live lives of meaning and purpose now and forever.
The book is focused around a lengthy Pilgrim's Progress-style allegory of judgment. In this allegory, quite a few valid points are made about life and God. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is, but something in the story didn't sit well with me on a literary level. Maybe it was the king quoting the words of God from the Bible. The bizarreness of the whole story took some getting used to. It seemed like Bevere wanted to break down and write a novel, and maybe he should have.
The reader may notice immediately that Bevere has a preachy, sometimes patronizing tone. Based on this tone, the reader may well imagine that Bevere thinks pretty highly of himself (he clearly thinks his allegory is pretty deep and exciting). One anecdote makes him seem pretty uptight. He's drawing an illustration from The Matrix (warning: this book contains spoilers for The Matrix), and he goes out of his way to point out that he "rented the edited version of this movie" (p. 83).
Driven by Eternity is by Evangelicals, for Evangelicals, and Bevere basically says as much in it. He talks about visions, miracles and supernatural experiences in a the-sky-is-blue, the-grass-is-green kind of way (which I for one do not really have a problem with). But some of the things that are everyday to Evangelicals will put a lot of people off. On page 102, Bevere begins to make a point from Job. But first he tells us that "the Spirit of God" told him to go read that part of Job. Great, but it doesn't add to the discussion.
I could nitpick at a lot of Bevere's theology, but that really wouldn't do anybody any good. The two big things worth mentioning are Bevere's challenge of the "once saved, always saved" doctrine (his arguments contain some holes) and his mainline Evangelical stance on the end times, which is more or less biblically unsupportable, and which he builds off of quite a bit. But the responsible reader will not let these errors get in the way of the message.
There are some style issues. Bevere needs to get acquainted with the comma, and he has other punctuation problems. Even at about 300 pages, the book runs long, because Bevere flogs the horse on every point. The elements of his allegory seemed quite self-explanatory to me, and I was genuinely surprised when he stopped to spell it all out. The book also feels disorganized, as we stop in the middle of the allegory and don't come back to it for quite a while.
Flaws aside (I know I listed quite a few), no true Christian can argue with Bevere's core message: that a real Christian is one who bears fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8), who desires to please God more than himself. Bevere also makes excellent points on how unforgiveness and self-focus can hold people back and how, on the whole, we need a greater focus on the good works Christians are called to do.
I really tried to like this book, but I just couldn't get the job done. If you are a Charismatic, an Evangelical, or a Pentecostal (or any combination thereof), you will probably think this book is great. Everybody else probably won't. I myself was disappointed.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Screwtape Letters is Lewis's classic collection of diabolical correspondence. In it, a senior devil gives continued advice to his protégé on how best to tempt his victim and keep him from salvation.
Lewis does not propose any concrete doctrine on devils here, and this is not his point. Rather he focuses on highlighting the ways, both large and small, that Christians are distracted from God. Lewis explores the dangers of not being purposeful toward God and life, as well as what happens to people when they give in to temptation.
The book is presented as a collection of letters, all from Screwtape to Wormwood. But Lewis does a good job of making the conversation not feel one-sided, and he does a fantastic job with the devils' personalities. In fact the book is rather deeper than this, as there are two other plots going on. First is the fate of Wormwood's man. Second is the relationship between the devils, and the fate of Wormwood.
The Screwtape Letters is deeper than it appears, and is thoroughly thought-provoking. Most every reader will find elements in it to which he or she can relate. Christians of all maturity levels can benefit from this book.
Monday, June 25, 2007
When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box is a book on life by John Ortberg, a Presbyterian pastor. His argument is thus: you will die, and when you do, you will lose all the stuff you have. Therefore, instead of focusing on things you cannot keep, focus on things you can.
Ortberg says that the object of life is, as Jesus said, to be rich toward God. Pleasing God is part of this; part of it is putting a greater priority on personal relationships. This also turns out to be the place where we find true fulfillment. Ortberg's main target is those who say they will work less and spend more time with their families "when things settle down." His message is this: things never settle down until it's too late.
The book is written with an amusing game theme. Ortberg borrows a lot of anecdotes from a lot of different authors, which is fine. He gives credit where credit is due. Ortberg has a surprisingly good sense of humor. Sometimes his jokes are pretty corny, but on the whole he seems like a funny guy. My only criticism of his writing is a small one: several chapters tend to run a little long (the reader has gotten the point and is ready to move on).
There is criticism due the publisher: on nearly every other page, there are excerpts from the text blown up in boxes on the same page. Perhaps this is done for those flipping through the book in a shop, or for those who skim, but for the actual reader, it is incredibly annoying and distracting.
On the whole, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box is an accessible, engaging, humorous book on Christian living and eternity. This is obviously a Christian book, but the theologizing does not get heavy-handed, and Ortberg does not beat the reader over the head with the Bible. It can benefit any Christian as well as some who are feeling unfulfilled.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Politics of Jesus is John Howard Yoder's treatise on Jesus' political inclinations, based on and in response to twentieth century biblical scholarship. Yoder was a Mennonite biblical scholar, theologian, and professor of theology. The 1994 version of this book is a revision and expansion of his original version, published in 1972.
Yoder points out early that this book is an ethical methodology, not an exegesis. Indeed, he spends the majority of the work building on and responding to the thought of innumerable other twentieth century scholars. His primary target is twentieth century Christian systematic theology that argues for various reasons that Jesus is not a valid source of personal ethics. Yoder does a thorough job of demonstrating that Jesus was indeed politically minded, and one of the consequences of this is the discovery that Jesus has intended us to follow his pacifist lifestyle.
Contrary to what at least one reviewer has complained, Yoder does address the Old Testament as it relates to a modern Christian pacifism, albeit briefly. Yoder's treatment of Romans 13, however, is thorough.
Most of the criticism of this book seems to be from people who are inherently opposed to Christian pacifism, as many arguments are from that ground rather than on anything Yoder has done incorrectly. That is, people tend to reject his arguments based on their personal beliefs and traditions. Many arguments say "Yoder didn't address such and such," but a book can only be so long.
The book does contain a lot of the vocabulary and jargon of Christian scholarship, and people unfamiliar with such may have a little trouble with it.
The Politics of Jesus is the finest book on Christianity I have read in a long time. Yoder does an excellent job highlighting parallels and themes running through Jesus' life, and of making the case for Christian pacifism. I recommend this book to everyone.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
If There's a God, Why Are there Atheists? is theologian R.C. Sproul's revised version of his book The Psychology of Atheism. In it, Sproul explores the psychological motives for atheism, and deals with the arguments of Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and Nietzsche.
This book is divided into two sections. In the first, "The Battlefield: Belief and Unbelief", Sproul introduces the debate over theism, the tension of disagreement, and the psychology of theism. Sproul is thoroughly fair and balanced here; one could hardly tell that he is a Christian. He discusses the arguments of Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and Nietzsche, and makes this interesting point: these men never argued against the existence of God. Rather, they presumed that God does not exist and built their arguments against religion on that assumption.
In part two, "The Psychology of Unbelief", Sproul discusses the Judeo-Christian God. Such an omnipotent and holy God, he argues, is not one we would seek out to gratify our psychological needs. Sproul also delves into religion as man's flight from God rather than his quest for God, and how because of original sin, people are naturally God's enemies.
If There's a God, Why Are there Atheists? is a rather short book (150 pages) and is a quick, mostly engaging read. Only in a few places does it drag. In it, Sproul makes some insightful, thought-provoking points. Recommended to believers interested in the subject or dealing with doubt, and to open-minded unbelievers.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Where's My Cow? is a tie-in with Pratchett's Discworld novel Thud!. It is ostensibly a children's book, although the target audience is quite obviously Discworld fans of all ages. This is perfectly in keeping with the burgeoning number of Discworld-related books that have been cranked out lately.
This is not, as might be expected, the version that appears in that book. Instead, Where's My Cow? is about Sam Vimes reading Where's My Cow? to his son, just as he did in Thud!. Mild silliness ensues. The problem is that there isn't really anything here that wasn't also in Thud!.
There have been a lot of complaints about Melvyn Grant's illustrations, mostly about his depiction of Vimes. Well, that's artistic expression for you. There's nothing terrible about the illustrations, even if they aren't great.
Where's My Cow? is really for serious Discworld fans only, most of whom will only be inclined to read it once. If you aren't a Discworld fan, you won't get it.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Friday, June 15, 2007
Creeds in the Bible is part of Concordia Publishing's Biblical Monographs series, which was "designed to acquaint readers with current developments in Biblical interpretation." In this book, Danker "discusses creedal confessions in Old and New Testament to increase appreciation for Biblical expressions of faith and the historic creeds of the church." In other words, Danker shows us what the words we say about Jesus in church mean, and where these creeds are rooted in the Old Testament. In looking at Jesus in relation to the Old Testament, we also see how a lot of Paul's supposedly new doctrine is rooted in the Old Testament.
Danker works with these creedal statements: there is One God, Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is Lord, Jesus died and rose, and Jesus is Savior. Danker does a fine job with all of these, but particularly with the last three, which remind the Christian that service to God is unto death and is eternally-minded. This is the great hope of Christianity – that there will be salvation, not only for ourselves, but for the whole of creation.
Ultimately, Danker reminds us what Christianity really is: "Christianity is not good views but good news. It is not philosophical propositions or mystical absorption. It is the message of God's deed of love expressed in a person" (p. 58).
Danker may be too great a scholar to come all the way down to our level, although he gets most of the way down (but keep a dictionary handy). His writing style is accessible and engaging (definitely more so than that of other scholars of that caliber), and occasionally humorous.
This book is quite short (64 pages), and doesn't get ever get so in depth as to be burdensome, nor does it delve into anything controversial. It is a thoroughly worthwhile read, and will be of greatest benefit to those who want a deeper understanding of what we as Christians confess.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Taking the Christian Life Seriously is Sinclair B. Ferguson's book on Christian maturity and spiritual growth. Ferguson is a Scottish theologian and minister in the Reformed tradition.
Ferguson discusses the reasons why spiritual maturity is important and the need to abide in Christ. For Christian maturity, Ferguson recommends, among other things, competent understanding of the Bible – that is, good hermeneutics and the ability to read Scripture in context. Ferguson discusses the difficulties and obstacles to Christian maturity, including sin, temptation, and suffering. He concludes by talking about "pressing on" – serving faithfully, running the race patiently, and living maturely.
Everything Ferguson has to say is true and good. He knows his biblical languages and etymologies. All signs point to him as a credible scholar of the Bible. The one drawback to this book is that Ferguson's writing is not always interesting or engaging, and he is often slow to move from one point to another. This book is only about 170 pages, but feels longer.
That notwithstanding, this book has a lot to offer (in somewhat general terms) to those who need to or desire to grow in their Christian faith.