Monday, July 30, 2007


Dr. John Tietjen (1928-2004) was a well-respected theologian and seminarian in the Lutheran church. He played a pivotal role in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod's Seminex controversy, and his book Which Way to Lutheran Unity?: A History of Efforts to Unite the Lutherans of America is perhaps his best-known work.

The Gospel According to Jesus, which was unfinished when Tietjen died, is his attempt to synthesize the four Gospels and present them from Jesus' perspective. Writing a believable and quality account in Jesus' first person, that is, getting inside Jesus' head, is certainly a daunting challenge.

It is not clear what audience Tietjen had in mind when he wrote this. It reads like Jesus is talking to eight-year-old kids of the modern day. An adult reader may feel like he's reading a children's book or like he's being talked down to. Tietjen has Jesus explain many Jewish customs and contexts (but strangely, neglects to define many Jewish terms), which is nice in and of itself, but which also takes away from the "gospel" feel of the piece.

Tietjen takes some liberties (Joseph was married before, etc.), but in an account like this, some degree of poetic license is necessary, and most of these liberties do not detract. One, however, does: When Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well, he guesses how many husbands she had, which is so thoroughly problematic that no further discussion is needed.

I have some serious problems with Tietjen's Jesus. This Jesus is completely ignorant that he is the Messiah, that he is the Son of God, until his baptism. After the baptism, we're dealing with an insecure, figure-it-out-as-you-go Jesus, which is largely incompatible with the works of power he does. With a running mentality of unsurety interspersed with outbursts of authority, Jesus comes off as almost bipolar at times. This Jesus is certainly not "one with the Father" (John 10:30). When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus is still sick. He's "just as he was before he died" (p. 64). This seems like something of a poorly-executed miracle.

Jesus' temptations simply aren't. During the second temptation, when Jesus is told to throw himself down from the Temple, Jesus immediately thinks, "...this idea was more disgusting to me than the earlier bread idea" (p. 20). The whole temptation scene is rendered rather ineffectual.

The reader is also left without a payoff. The greatest challenge in writing from inside Jesus' head would be the Passion. But Tietjen switches perspectives here, and gives us Mary the sister of Lazarus as narrator.

The book has other problems. There are many typos, too few commas, and a bizarre recurring changing of tense in mid-sentence. The writing is profoundly amateurish at times. For example, "With a loud voice I shouted" (p. 42). However, the cover, by Sally Beck, is nothing short of gorgeous.

Who knows how this book would have turned out had Tietjen lived to finish it? This really seems like a missed opportunity. In its current condition, The Gospel According to Jesus is unworthy of anyone's time.


The Gospel According to Jesus was published in 2006 by Creative Communications for the Parish.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Mere Christianity is taken from a series of radio lectures Lewis gave in the 1940s, and was originally published in three volumes. Here, Lewis lays out the basics of Christian doctrine, focusing on those things we can agree on rather than on issues that run toward the controversial. This is not a scholarly work; it was written by a layperson for laypeople, and is based more in logic and rhetoric than anything else.

Lewis is able to pick and choose between what is fundamentally important and what is not foundational to true Christianity. He addresses human nature, the nature of God, common sense, faith and reason, and morality, and on the whole uses great illustrations to do so. Lewis also sticks to his guns on the more unpopular tenets of Christianity.

The book is highly readable; Lewis has a humorous, engaging style, and while the chapters flow together in sequence, they are relatively self-contained.

There are gaps in Lewis's logic here and there, and at times he is slightly off the doctrinal mark (on love for enemies, for example), but on the whole he provides new and refreshing ways to look at Christianity. Anyone who is a Christian or who is seriously considering Christianity can benefit from it.


Sunday, July 15, 2007


One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is the story of the residents and staff of a mental ward, centered around the power struggle between McMurphy, the new, sane patient, and the dictatorial Big Nurse.

The novel is written in the present tense, which is often problematic, but here it works well enough. The use of Chief Bromden as the narrator is problematic at times, and the reader may find himself repeatedly skimming or skipping entire pages of mentally-unbalanced monologues. The end of the novel seems rushed, and as a result the impacts of many of the novel's climactic events are diminished.

All in all, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is an interesting read. But maybe, just maybe, the movie is better.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Katharine Luther: Liberated Nun is a biography of the wife of Reformer Martin Luther. Katharine von Bora entered a convent at a young age, and was later smuggled out with other nuns who wished to break from the traditional church.

Although Walter has compiled a solid and reputable reference list, this account is marked by simple and amateurish writing that leans to the romanticized and melodramatic. The book seems to be written to an audience of teenage, Lutheran girls. The book is short on historical context, and heavily emphasizes the Luthers' household life. As such, Walter gives little information on Katharine Luther's life before and during her time in the convent.

Walter has done an excellent job of communicating to the reader Martin Luther's sense of humor, as well as his relationship with Katherine. The book also has a few interesting cultural tidbits, most notably the custom of escorting a bride and groom to their wedding bed. As Justus Jonas said, "I was present yesterday and saw the couple in their marriage bed. As I watched this spectacle, I could not hold back my tears" (p. 27).

As I said, Walter has a solid list of sources, but there appears to be no original research here, and this is hardly a scholarly text. At 80 pages, it is a quick read, and may be of interest to those with some background knowledge of Luther.


Thursday, July 5, 2007


This is William Bligh's personal account of the mutiny on board the H.M.S. Bounty in 1789. The first half of the account concerns the Bounty's travels among the islands, interactions with the indigenous peoples, and the transportation of breadfruit plants.

These portions are quite often boring, as they get bogged down in mundane detail and nautical jargon. The account of the mutiny itself is extremely short. But the second half of the novel, Bligh's 3600 mile journey in an open boat, is gripping and astounding.

Bligh's account, while more or less fair, is nevertheless one-sided. And the dispute over what kind of man he was persists. If you are looking for a complete and accurate account of the mutiny in one volume, this is not it, although it is a valuable part of any such research.


Sunday, July 1, 2007


The Invisible Man really isn't sci-fi, in spite of Wells' good efforts to explain it as such. Even so, it's a perfectly enjoyable fantasy. It takes the whole "what would you do if you were invisible" idea and turns it on its ear. Most of us think being invisible would be all fun and games. Well, maybe not.

The main character ranges in personality from jerk to raving psychopath. And it works. We're no less interested in the outcome because of it.

The suspenseful climax, where the doctor is barricaded in the house, is great. One realizes that if that were to actually happen, it would be utterly terrifying.

To raise a point I've raised before, how can you see if your eyes are invisible? How can these various parts of your eyes refract any light? Invisible people should be blind.

If you were invisible, wouldn't your whole digestive process be visible? How would that food turn invisible? In this novel, it does after a little while, but no explanation is given. Wells conveniently avoids a rather nasty situation. I, for one, would like to see somebody write a book about a Digestive Man.

And why are albinos always bad guys?