Book Review

Reading List 2011

Each year I post a list of the books I have read.  This year I decided to take a sabbatical from reading anything serious.  So, with only a few exceptions, I read only the Wheel of Time series.  Wheel of Time is without question my favorite fantasy series ever, even the slow books (7-10) are good.

  1. Love Wins - Rob Bell: I wrote two reviews of this book.  A snarky one and a serious one.
  2. Rescuing Ambition - Dave Harvey: This was a wonderful book, The thesis is that God has placed a desire for greatness into our hearts.  Ambition comes from God and should not lead us away from God or from church.  It deals with failure and success and I highly recommend it.
  3. The Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges: Simply one of the best books I have ever read
  4. Don't Waste Your Life - John Piper: This book is very John Piper-y. If you like his writing, you will like this.
  5. The Weight of Glory - C.S. Lewis: A collection of essays, some are quite good, but overall I'd give this book a hearty meh.
  6. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches - Russell Moore:  I loved this book and reviewed it here
  7. The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time, Book 2) - Robert Jordan
  8. The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time Book 3) - Robert Jordan
  9. The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of Time, Book 4) - Robert Jordan
  10. The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time, Book 5) - Robert Jordan
  11. Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, Book 6) - Robert Jordan
  12. A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, Book 7) - Robert Jordan
  13. The Path of Daggers (The Wheel of Time, Book 8 ) - Robert Jordan
  14. Winter's Heart (The Wheel of Time, Book 9) - Robert Jordan
  15. Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, Book 10) - Robert Jordan
  16. Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, Book 11) - Robert Jordan
  17. The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time Book 12) - Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
  18. Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, Book 13) - Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Review: Adopted for Life

I should maybe call this a sort-of review, because it is pretty much unabashed in its praise.  I know there is supposed to be criticism as part of any book review, but I got my copy for free. So I can't even complain about the price. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore is, without question, the best book I have ever read on adoption. It is the only book I have ever read on adoption so maybe I should offer some other praise.  Adopted for Life is one of the best books I have ever read about parenting.  (In case you are wondering, the best book about parenting is Shepherding a Child's Heart)

I read this book in audiobook format.  That means that I was driving, or mowing the yard, or cleaning the house as I listened to it.  I obviously didn’t take notes while listening so this is not as complete a review as I would normally write.

The thesis of Adopted for Life is that physical adoption is a picture of the doctrine of adoption.  The book is an encouragement for every Christian and every church to be involved in adoption either by supporting those who seek to adopt or by adopting.  Moore would say that adoption is ultimately an issue of evangelism.

The book is, however, not entirely about theology.  Much of the book is dedicated to the practical issues that are bound to come up in adoption.  Moore has two adopted boys and he draws heavily from his experience with the adoption process and with raising adopted children.  He is open about his own feelings in every area of the adoption process.  I obviously have not been though the adoption process but I can not think of an issue that he does not cover.

I read the book because my brother and his wife are beginning the adoption process.  I will recommend it to them and to my parents, and to anyone in their church.  This book has my highest endorsement.  I have nothing but praise for Adopted for Life.

Book Review: Love Wins

I think it might be an internet rule that if you are a Christian and a blogger you must write a review of Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins.  I don't want to run afoul of the internet so here is my review.  I know that many of my readers have not read other reviews but I should say, there's probably nothing too original here. Much ink has already been spilled in reviewing Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell, so I will not be offering a traditional review here.  Rather I will be answering some of the questions that people have heard about the book.

What is the thesis of Love Wins?

Rob Bell’s writing style doesn’t lend itself to clarity.  Any time he is getting close to a conclusion, instead of saying what he believes or even what he means, he asks leading questions.  But it seems that the thesis is as follows:

God gets what He wants. Because he is loving, God wants everyone to be saved. Love wins.

Again, he never comes out and says that everyone will be saved, but he makes that implication strongly.  Apparently they will be saved even if they desire nothing of God.  Although he doesn’t reconcile this tension.

Is Love Wins at least careful with the scriptures.  Does he come to his conclusions Biblically?

In short, no.  One would have to strive to mishandle the scriptures as much as Bell does in Love wins.  He is a pastor and one charged with preaching the word.  He should have a basic grasp of hermeneutics, but he is utterly irresponsible with God’s word.  One brief example is quoting John 12:47 [pg 160] to say that Jesus didn’t come to judge the world.  However, in that very same sentence Jesus says that His words will judge those “who reject me.”  There are so many examples of either terrible hermeneutics or outright mishandling of the scriptures that it would be hard to list them all.

What about the holiness of God, does he care about that?

The word Holy appears on page 182. That’s it.  And on page 182 he describes substitutionary atonement correctly and follows it by suggesting that it teaches a false message.  So yes he does deny the holiness of God.  The god of Love Wins is loving, but he is not holy.  That is not the God of the Bible!

I have to also say that Bell is very loose with the way he speaks of the Trinity.  He doesn’t deny the trinity, but he is not at all careful in the way he speaks.  It is extremely off-putting to hear somebody say Jesus and God.  It implies that Jesus is not God.

Does he really deny the atonement?

He does in fact describe the crucifixion as a powerful metaphor. And he says that “most of us do not understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.”  He says the first Christians, “put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.”  I wonder if he has read the book of Hebrews?  I said at that outset that His style doesn’t lend itself to clarity.  Bell never actually says anything.  What he does is imply it in a way that only an idiot could deny what has been said.  So yes, he strongly implies that the atonement is just a metaphor.

Is there anything good about the book?

I will give him credit for understanding Heaven as a physical place.  Many times in many evangelical churches, heaven is seen as this ethereal place that neither seems heavenly or particularly real.

Also the book is quick to read.

Would you recommend the book?


A Snarky Book Review: Love Wins

What if somebody wrote a book that didn’t say anything?It just asked questions… loads of questions.

Love Wins book coverWhat if those questions were all leading? Could that count as actually saying anything? Does this post so far leave you with any doubt of what I am trying to communicate? It is, after all, almost all questions.

Can I deny that I said anything? All I really did was ask a bunch of questions. Is it a problem if the questions all have self-evident answers?

What if somebody used the word “story” in virtually every other paragraph? Would you find that annoying?

What if somebody wrote with no concern for how much paper they used? What if there were random line breaks everywhere? After commas, After ellipses... Even for no reason whatsoever?

And then followed that with like 4 blank lines also for no reason whatsoever.

How long could I write like this before it became incredibly annoying? Would 194 pages of this be more than you can stomach?

Also, what if this book cost 11 dollars but took under 2 hours to read, even while making notes in almost every page?  Would that affect your feelings toward the book?

If you enjoy this style of writing I recommend Love Wins by Rob Bell.  If you find it silly or annoying or you just wonder if this is what they call "emerging grammar" then I say skip it.

Thus ends the snarky portion of my book review  Read the next post if you want a serious review.

The next 2 posts on this blog

Last week I wrote a post about the holiness and love of God because I knew the pull that Rob Bell has and I knew more or less what the thesis of his new and very popular book was.  That post was not written as a review but as a theological critique to the picture of God the book paints.  I decided, however, that it is unfair to do so without reading the book.  So I bought it and read it.  I have decided to write the review in 2 parts and to make those parts 2 posts.  I don't want anyone to read the first one and take it too seriously. First there will be a snarky review because the style of the book annoyed me and it was fun to write.

Second, there will be a serious review of the book.  Read whichever one you prefer.

The Blogpost with the Dragon Tattoo: In Praise of Fiction

I have been a reader as long as I can remember.  I was reading Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 4th grade and it seems like I have always loved reading.  When I started Seminary, I learned quickly that I would not be doing any “pleasure reading.”  The workload in seminary was such that I learned to always be reading.  I could find time to watch a basketball game as long as I had a text in hand and would read during commercials.  This reading, however, was not for fun.  It was classwork and it was necessary for my progress as a student.  Somewhere along the way I began to enjoy reading non-fiction and the learning it provided.  I especially developed a love for reading apologetic works.  And a quick look at my reading list over the past few years will show you that I rarely read anything other than non-fiction. The one exception to this has been audio books.  I had a 10+ hour trip between my hometown and where I lived for the last few years.  And I found that audio books that are well-read are perfect for passing time.  I also found that fiction works much better for passing time than non-fiction.

Then, 2 years ago I began systematically trying to read books that are considered great works of fiction. Only two of those books really captured my imagination; Les Miserables, and Jude the Obscure.  Otherwise I read those books out of a sort of sense of duty.  I still had not recaptured my love of reading fiction.

For Christmas this year I got a Kindle.  (I know I wrote a whole post about how I wouldn’t, but it was a gift.  I’ll probably write a review of it before long.) I used the occasion of getting a kindle as a catalyst for re-reading the The Wheel of Time Series.  I read books 1-9 back in college, then I quit reading them for fear that they would never end.  Now that Robert Jordan has died and Brandon Sanderson is finishing the series I know that there is only 1 book remaining and it appears that it is on pace to be finished in 2011.  So I began at book 2 and have read those books every day for two months.

There really is nothing like reading fiction for both relaxing and for entertainment.  I wonder if there is a word for the phenomenon that is reading.  Because at some point you stop processing words and begin to see the story in your mind’s eye.  It is the reason no movie ever lives up to the book, because so much of the drama, certainly all the images from a work of fiction occur in the imagination.  Images on a screen have no choice but to look like the images on the screen.  Every person who reads a book sees a different face on the characters and every person sees a different mental picture of the events.

Adults are limited in the realm of imagination.  I’m not sure why imagination fades with age, but clearly it does.  Fiction allows that imagination to return.  It is typically confined to the story, but still it is imagination and it can only be good for the reader.

I’m sure that I have just written an entire post that had no need to be written.  Stories are not going anywhere, I know that.  But I am somebody who had nearly gotten completely away from reading fiction.  I thought I might encourage others of you in the same boat to return.  Reading fiction is a great escape

(BTW if you know if there is a word that describes the way a story occurs in your mind rather than on a page, let me know in the comments.)

Reading List 2010

Each year I like to post a a list of the books I read.  Some of you may find some good books to read in this list, and maybe you can find some books to avoid.  For several years I have really not read fiction at all.  Beginning last year I decided to read classic works of fiction just in the last few minutes each night as I am going to bed.  It was more successful last year than this one, but at least I am reading classic works.  (I am almost finished with the Russians.)

  1. Heaven – Randy Alcorn.  The best book I read this year.  I would not say it transformed my view of my eternal home, but I would say it made me much more informed and helped me develop a much fuller view.
  2. Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? – James Sire.  An excellent book addressing he postmodern worldview and the consequences of what people believe.
  3. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Frank Turek & Norman Geisler.  If this book were not a modern classic in apologetics I would have written a review.  This book is thorough and excellent.  I will probably make it a textbook if I ever get to teach another apologetics class
  4. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know – Mark Galli.  I reviewed this excellent book here
  5. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. I listened to this as an audiobook (hence it not being in the picture.)  It was exciting from start to finish.  Among classic literature I would describe it as one of my 5 favorite books.
  6. What Is a Healthy Church? - Mark Dever. I think I got this book free at the 2008 SBC.  It was quite good.
  7. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will – Norm Geisler. It may be that I really liked this book because I share the same view as Norm Geisler.  However, even if I disagreed or came to a different conclusion, I would appreciate the incredible thoroughness of this book.  I doubt that there is an applicable scripture that he doesn't handle
  8. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S. Lewis. I read this because the movie was coming out and I wanted to refresh my memory from my childhood.  It is quite a good book even if it is meant as children's lit.
  9. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism – Mark Dever - It's worth a read if just for the "What is not evangelism" section.
  10. Disappointment with God – Philip Yancey. One of the more useful apologetic topics I believe is the problem of evil.  Yancey is not necessarily doing apologetics here, but this book is quite good.
  11. The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis. I don't fully agree with Lewis's theodicy.  but his book is a classic on the topic.  Plus the last year has been tough for me, so I might have felt a bit more drawn to the topic.
  12. Ringworld – Larry Niven. Another audiobook it was interesting. And aparently it is a sci-fi classic.
  13. The Man Code – Dennis Swanberg. This book is nothing special.  though i suppose it could be useful in the context of a men's ministry
  14. Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection – Michael Licona.  Even though I really want Mike to sign off on my certification as an apologetics instructor this book didn't really do it for me.  Maybe because I have not been exposed to Muslim apologetics outside of "read the Koran"
  15. The Red Feather - Tom Elliff. Another free book from a convention somewhere.
  16. What Is a Healthy Church Member? – Thabiti M. Anyabwile
  17. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy. Not the longest book I have ever read, but it felt like it.  I'm glad I read it but really only so I can say I've read it
  18. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine – John Fox.  I bet you are wondering why I read this book.  It's definitely not my typical subject matter, and it is hardly a classic.  Well I'll tell you why.  My grandfather, who died this year, remembered it as the book that got him hooked on reading as a boy.  So I bought it for him a few years back.  He said it was definitely not what he remembered, but I read it in his memory.  I don't recommend it.

Book Review: 131 Christians Everyone Should Know

131 Christians Everyone Should Know is a compilation of biographies from the editors of Christian History Magazine, with a brief foreword by JI Packer. I sometimes have the opportunity to teach history.  I try to tell stories whenever possible, rather than to simply relate facts.  This is a lesson I learned from the best lecturer I have ever had for a class, Dr. David Hogg.  History is much more than simply events, but consists of the people that participate in those events.  That is the concept of this book.  It contains, interestingly enough, 131 brief biographies (most about 3 pages long) of Christians divided into categories based on why they are historically significant.

This label, “Christian,” is pretty broadly given by evangelical standards, but all of these people would call themselves Christians and all are historically significant.  The biographies are well-written and many will spur you on to a desire to read more about the subject.

I am giving this book my highest recommendation.  It is well-written, educational, and interesting.  It is perfect to have around for when you only have a few minutes to read.  Go get it.

Review: Barnes & Noble Nook (Guest Blog)

This is my first ever guest blog post.  Ben Caldwell is a friend from college and a regular commenter on this blog.  After my post about why I'm not buying an e-book reader he said that he was getting a Nook.  I've never even seen a Nook, and only once have I seen a Kindle in real life, but the idea of an e-reader intrigues me, so I asked him to write a review. Enjoy

I just received a B&N nook for Valentine's Day from my lovely wife, who probably just wanted to me to quit talking about how I was going to buy one "someday." I've wanted an ebook reader for a while now. My only real hobby these days is reading. Over the last three years, I've probably averaged about 85 books a year. However, I don't buy a lot of books. I'm a big library user and visit the used book store once every couple of weeks, but buying new books is pretty rare for me. This makes the idea of an ebook reader less attractive because library support for ebooks is pretty limited. However, I still wanted one because of the convenience and other advantages they offer.

I had settled on the nook for a few reasons. The first is that it is based on the Android platform, which opens up a wide range of future possibilities. The hardware is also nicer than the other offerings, and more attractive. Features like "LendMe" caught my attention, too, though I believe it sounds better than it actually is. The Kindle is the leader and normally, with new technology, it makes sense to go with the leader but I like the nook and think it has a decent future ahead of it.

I've now used my nook for about three days. I am very pleased with the reading experience it offers. The text is very sharp and does indeed look almost exactly like paper. This is one of the big advantages of the E-Ink technology over something like an LCD screen (like the iPad, your phone, or your computer screen). It is not backlit, so you do need an external light source. This is a good thing, though, as it reduces eyestrain and allows for longer reading sessions. Another advantage of E-Ink is that once the screen is painted with the text, it takes no power to continue displaying that page. This greatly increases battery life and should make charging a once-a-week occurrence, at most.

Books can be obtained from various sources thanks to the multiple formats supported by the nook. The main place, of course, is the B&N Ebook store, which is the only one you can buy from directly from the nook. You should be able to buy from other large vendors, like and Fictionwise, though I haven't tried it.

The nook isn't perfect, though. Navigation is done via a small LCD touch screen at the bottom of the device. This is attractive and all, but it is very sluggish. Thankfully, not much of your time will be spent on the LCD. Once you choose your book, you are just flipping pages. However, if you want to look up a word in your book, you still have to use the LCD to navigate down the page to the word and hit the define button, which is just painful enough to make it a rare occurrence. Also, the LendMe feature, though it sounds great, is sort of lame. The feature allows you to lend a book to someone for 14 days. That's good, but the further limitations cripple it. You can only lend a particular book once, ever. Also, the ability to lend a book is up to the publisher and support for this right now appears to be pretty low.

Hopefully B&N can address some of these issues in future updates. However, as it is today, I am enjoying reading on it.

DRM Ruins Everything: Why I will not be buying an e-book reader

I really want an e-book reader.  I read at a pretty good clip, not nearly as much as some people, but enough that a Kindle, or a Sony e-reader, or yes, even the stupidly named iPad would be a good investment for me.  Twice in the last year I have received, Legally and for free, books in an electronic format.  (In both cases they were PDFs)  In both cases, I would have liked to read the books but have not.  The reason I didn’t read them is that it would take a ream of paper to get them off my screen and I don’t want to sit at a computer to read a book.  I should be able to have a more comfortable posture while reading. So far, the body of this post belies the title.  I am saying that I want an e-book reader.  So what are the reasons why I will not be buying one?

Pay close attention to this, publishers, because I am no the only one who feels this way.  (In fact you could easily have learned this lesson from the music publishers, but you won’t)  Digital Rights Management ruins everything!

I do not want to lease my books.  If I buy a kindle edition of a book, it only works on my kindle.  So, if it is stolen, or broken, or lost and I want to replace it with a different brand, or if I choose to get a different device because something newer is better, I would have to buy that book again to read it on the new device.

I want the ability to give a book away. It is not unusual for me to read a book, and then if I enjoy it, pass it along to a friend or family member.  There is one book that I have given away 4 copies of in the past 2 years.  With DRM, I cannot give that book away.

I want the ability to sell books.  I won’t even get into the necessity of used textbooks for college students here.  I am only going to address the marketplace of used books.  I am a regular at my local used bookstore. I don’t sell everything I read, but many books are simply not worth adding to my library.  With a digital book full of DRM I have no option but to keep that book for all time.  (Not really, I can actually only keep it as long as I have the compatible device)  You received your price for that book already, It should then become my property to do with as I please; even if that includes selling it.  And I believe used bookstores should embrace this as well and make marketplaces for selling used e-books.

I fully realize that publishers do not want me to have that power.  I get it, if they lock the book down then that means more sales for them.  In fact, I may be forced to buy a book many times if I refer to it often in class or periodically reread it.  I can only assume that book publishers wish that libraries didn’t exist.

I also understand that publishers are worried about piracy.  DRM does not stop piracyI doubt if it even slows it down.  What it does accomplish is making sure that your customers are going to be angry at you, because sooner or later they will want to change devices.  I know that downloading a book without paying for it is stealing, and I am not a thief.  I will be happy to pay for the books I read.  I’ll gladly delete my digital copy of a book that I am selling, but I refuse to pay good money for a book that is locked down.

So readers, do you agree or disagree? Or do you think that the idea of an e-book is stupid

Reading List 2009

Books Here is the list of books I read in 2009.  It is disappointingly short compared to last year.  But I mixed in some fiction.  This list also includes audiobooks I listened to.

  1. reThink – Steve Wright (Reviewed here)
  2. ApParent Privilege – Steve Wright & Chris Graves (Reviewed here)
  3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decision – Dan Ariely. This book is not pictured because I checked it out from the library.  It is completely fascinating and highly recommended.
  4. The Reason for God – Timothy Keller (Reviewed here)
  5. The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning – J.P. Moreland (Reviewed here)
  6. Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior – Jared Wilson (Reviewed here)
  7. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy. This was the best fiction book I read this year
  8. The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton. It took me forever to read this.  Chesterton may be the most clever person ever to write a word.  but for some reason this was a bit overwhelming for me
  9. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (Sort of reviewed here)
  10. The Last Christian Generation – Josh McDowell.  My official review... meh
  11. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  12. Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul – Erwin McManus
  13. Searching for God Knows What - Donald Miller.  Better than I expected since I hated Blue Like Jazz, but nothing to recommend.
  14. Letters to Lovers: Wisdom for Every Season of Your Marriage – Tom Elliff
  15. The Hidden History of the Human Race – Michael Cremo & Richard Thompson.  Convincing but not in the way the authors hoped.
  16. Growing an Engaged Church – Albert Winseman.  Don't waste your time (Reviewed here) From here down this list is all audiobooks
  17. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – John Perkins (Reviewed Here)
  18. Crazy Love – Francis Chan. This audiobook was almost excruciating.  It is like Chan was trying to read the book as slowly as possible.  If i had an iPod so I could have listened at 1.75 speed I would have enjoyed it much more.  Or if I had read a physical book I would have liked it more.  In the end it is a challenging and convicting book, I just advise avoiding the audio version
  19. Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card
  20. Xenocide – Orson Scott Card.  These Ender books are thoroughly engrossing and don't get boring after listening for hours.  They are perfectly read, interesting stories.  if you like sci-fi at all, these are excellent books.

Book Review: Your Jesus is Too Safe

Jared C. Wilson is a pastor in Nashville Tennessee.  He has written Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior, in his words, as a reminder of the original message of Jesus.  It is an excellent and complete explanation of Christology.   The book is divided into 12 chapters, each dealing with a different aspect or attribute of Jesus. The necessity of this book in postmodern America seems obvious.  Because Christians, or even churches have chosen to pick and choose the characteristics or attributes of Jesus that seem most appealing to them, this book is a reminder that Jesus is all these things.   For example, some churches choose only to view Jesus as the provision and ignore the fact that He is also king.   The message of Your Jesus is too Safe is that those aspects of His character cannot be overlooked.

I will give my highest recommendation to the chapter on Jesus the judge.  This aspect of who Christ is has been so badly distorted or ignored that this chapter is necessary.  This chapter is so fair and complete in its discussion of the topic it is probably the best work I have ever read on the topic.  I wish I had written it.  It was also a good decision on Wilson’s part to follow up the excellent chapter on Jesus as judge with the chapter on Jesus as redeemer.

The footnotes in the book are brilliant.  I am always annoyed when books have endnotes rather than footnotes.  But it would have been a crime to do that with this book.  Fortunately they are kept as footnotes and are used masterfully.   At one point the footnotes included a link to this.

Also, it seems that Wilson’s voice comes through in this book strongly.  It is humorous and enjoyable while dealing with very serious subject matter.  That is something I try to do as I write, but I am only marginally as successful as Wilson.

It is not a scholarly work on Christology, if that is what you are looking for, there are better sources.  It is, however, thorough and accurate.  I would recommend it to anybody in my church.  I just wouldn’t recommend it for my CBC students trying to write a paper.

Neil Postman

I wonder if anyone who reads my blog has any idea who Neil Postman was? He was what I, and wikipedia, will call a cultural critic.  His most well-known book is Amusing Ourselves to Death, the thesis of which is that the ignorance and destruction of the future will not come in the way Orwell prophesied in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the way Huxley prophesied in Brave New World.  That is to say, the downfall of intelligence is not in the form of oppression or governmental control, but in the form of a change in media to one that is enjoyed and desired, but consequently requires no thought.  In other words, our entertainment is making us stupid.

Also in Amusing Ourselves to Death Postman describes what he calls the age of show business.  He says that in this age, entertainment has become the greatest virtue of all, and the things that go with it must be accepted, whether good or bad, merely because they are necessary.  (e.g. Choosing the attractive news anchor over the articulate one.)  He explains how the terse nature of visual media, particularly television news, has the effect of removing the importance from every issue.  He even discusses how TV-izaition has resulted within other media forms.  The result is magazines with virtually no articles and newspapers with extremely short stories.  Postman claims this has destroyed news. Keep in mind that he wrote this book in 1985, long before the internet

He also cowrote a book with Steve Powers called How to Watch TV News.  I will give you the takeaways from the book more or less, straight from chapter one.  1.)TV is an unsleeping money machine. 2.) Management, not journalists, make news decisions based on business considerations. 3.) Decisions of what is newsworthy are based on what keeps viewers watching so that they will see commercials.

Tomorrow.  Why Jon Stewart is the modern Neil Postman

Dual Book Review: The God Question & The Reason For God

I recently read The God Question: An Invitation to a  Life of Meaning by J.P. Moreland and The Reason for God: Beilef in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.  These books do not just have similar titles, they are very similar books. J.P. Moreland is a professor of Apologetics at the Talbot School of Theology, and strictly speaking is a better apologist than Keller.  Keller however is a Pastor.  He started the Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City.  As a pastor, his book addresses issues he has seen in the pastorate.

I read a lot books that fall under the rubric of apologetics.  And in truth, all of them have some similarities.  Modern day apologists are still expanding on the work of Aquinas and secularists are still attacking his methods.  He has been dead for 8 centuries, and books still keep coming.  So there is bound to be some overlap.

Both The God Question and The Reason for God are written in a similar fashion.  Both address the reader directly, make wide use of first person and both tackle life’s most basic questions.  Moreland uses the story of his personal journey to Christ.  And Keller answers questions about the Christian faith that have arisen from his years as a pastor in Manhattan.

In the first part of The God Question Moreland addresses the reason why Americans don’t know how to be happy.  He even diagnoses the problem.  We don’t know how to be happy because we have decided to reject the notion of moral right and wrongness.  And addressing the reader directly he transitions into a work of apologetics.  This direct address to the reader as “you” is an approach I have never seen before.  Though Moreland does his best to be gentle, the subject is inherently offensive.  I wonder how effective this approach is to someone who is a committed agnostic. (Is that an oxymoron?)  At any rate It is a novel approach and the book remains interesting.  Moreland ventures into territory rarely addressed by apologetics as well.  He discusses the reality of demons and the importance of prayer and worship.  These topics are usually not found in apologetics books.

In The Reason for God Keller uses the introduction to admit that there are genuine differences in those who are skeptics of God, Christianity, and religion and Christians.  He explains that in his view doubts are not bad because they lead us to seek answers.  If we seek answers we will find the truth; God is real and Christianity is true.  In the first section of the book he addresses a host of doubts that people have expressed to him. Then in the second section he builds the case for Christianity.

I have some disagreements with both authors but nothing that would really temper my recommendation. I am comfortable recommending either book.  But if I was forced to only recommend one, it would be The Reason for God because it is written by a pastor and reflects a pastor’s heart.

Am I Well Read?

I am in the habit of writing brief book reviews for this blog.  (But you already know that.)  I don’t review every book I read, just the ones for which I think my review will be useful to my readers, or books that I think are important. I spent most of the summer reading Anna Karenina.  I would read one or two chapters per night as I went to bed.  The version I read was 870 pages, so you can see why it took all summer.  I don’t really know how to review a fiction book, plus the book is 132 years old.  My review would make no difference at this point.  But I thought I might explain what made me chose it to read.

Some time ago the note at the end of this post started floating around Facebook with the BBC 100 book list.  I had only read 18 of those 100 books, so I thought I’d expand my horizons and read some of them.   Also, Tolstoy is often quoted by Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors.  The fact that it is an Oprah Book Club selection is a pretty big strike against it in my eyes, but it is a classic, so I had to just ignore the Oprah connection.

But the real clincher for my choice is very sophisticated.  It was available at my local used bookstore for $4.  (That is how I chose a substantial portion of the books I read.)

My thoughts on the book are these.  It is almost 900 pages with probably 25 regular characters.  Nearly every one of the 25 characters goes by 3 names.  For example one of the main characters goes by Levin, Kostya, and Konstantin Dmitrievitch.  This was very confusing for me at times.  Otherwise it is so incredibly massive that it is hard not to admire.  That’s really all you are getting for a review.

Here is the book list from Facebook:

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. 2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE. 3) Star (*) those you plan on reading. 4) Add a # if you've at least seen the movie 5) Tally your total at the bottom.

How many have you read?

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR x+# 3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling # 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *# 6 The Bible x 7 Wuthering Heights 8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x+ 9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullma 10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens x 11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller x 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Really? Has anyone done this?) 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger 19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 20 Middlemarch - George Eliot 21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchel # 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x 23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy x 25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams # 26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh 27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (I have read the Brothers Karamazov) 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy x 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens x 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x 34 Emma - Jane Austen 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x# (This is on here twice) 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden 40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell x 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown# 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery 47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy 48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding x # 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan 51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel 52 Dune - Frank Herbert 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens x 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley x 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy x 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding 69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie 70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville 71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens 72 Dracula - Bram Stoker 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson 75 Ulysses - James Joyce 76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome 78 Germinal - Emile Zola 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray 80 Possession - AS Byatt 81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens x (# about 10 versions) 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker 84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry 87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x # 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Why would this book be on this list?) 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas # 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare x 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl # 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo x+

Totals: Read it x - 23 Loved it + - 3 Plan to read * - 2 (I guess I'm pretty lame) Seen movie # - 12

This list in the Facebook note has been altered pretty substantially from the BBC list.  And Just in case you are wondering, I have only read 14 of the actual list.  (Though to be fair, Harry Potter takes up like 5 places on that list)  What would be your list of 10 fiction books everyone should read?

Book Review: ApParent Privilege

ApParent Privilege is written by Steve Wright and Chris Graves and is the Companion book to reThink. (which I reviewed here) The thesis of ApParent Privilege is that the privilege of discipling children in the faith falls to Christian parents. It is not the job of the church, youth minister, or school. Those entities are supplementary.

To build the case of the book the authors begin by citing multiple studies, both religious and secular that all agree.  There is no more powerful influence in the life of a child than his or her family. The Bible agrees with this position as well which the authors establish thoroughly.  They then follow up with their own study which said that students wish their parents would be more proactive in their lives spiritually.

After establishing the thesis, ApParent Privilege moves into the reasons why biblical parenting is more important than ever.  The world is changing but not the true job of parents.

“Biblical parenting is more than keeping our kids from having sex, using drugs, or going to jail.  It is about fostering an awe of God in our children.  It is about showing our children their need for a Savior and introducing them to Jesus who alone can rescue their lives from sin and give life that lasts forever.”

This quote, my favorite from the book, echoes the thesis of the greatest Christian parenting book ever, Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp.

The book continues with a more how-to approach to Christian parenting.  This includes a word directly to fathers, practical ideas for developing and discipling children, and ways for the church to supplement rather than supersede parents.

It would be difficult for me to give higher praise to a book than to this one.  It is well-written, easy to read, simple and straightforward.  The authors make their case thoroughly and offer practical advice on how to become biblical parents.  My only criticism of the book is that it is entirely too expensive for such a small book.  This is not a problem particular to this book, it plagues the entire publishing industry.

I strongly recommend ApParent Privilege to any parent of a school-aged child.

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

While on the road on my vacation I listened to the unabridged version of Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.  I chose it because I remember all the times John C. Dvorak recommended it on TWIT.  Here is my review. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is the autobiography of John Perkins.  It tells of how he spent the 1970s and 80s as a self-proclaimed "Economic Hitman".  He recounts what led him to his position and then his years of service to the Main consulting company in Boston.  He contends that his position for these many years was to go into third-world countries (only if they have natural resources to exploit) and recommend them for large loans from the world bank for infrastructure improvements.  The condition on the loans is that American companies (especially those contracted by Main) be hired to do the work.  In this way, the countries become indebted to the U.S. even though all the money has gone into the hands of American companies.  This system, he contends, makes the few in power of these countries rich, further impoverishes the rest of the populace and enslaves the nation to the American “corporatocracy”.  This tale of corruption was disturbing though not entirely shocking.  The shocking part is his claim that he knew full-well what he was guilty of yet he continued to do it for years.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was very interesting.  It never dragged along, and considering the nature of the subject it could have been very boring.  However. it was entertaining throughout.

It seemed credible as well.  Although it definitely has the feel of a book that could be made up.  The best way to describe it would be that it seems over-embellished in many parts.  (Is over-embellished redundant?)

It gave insight into the financial doings of the world bank and large corporations.  There is nothing in the book that would be a complete shock to any American.  It is just the audacity with which Perkins claims these corporations are willing to exploit developing nations.

Though it was interesting and even insightful, Confessions suffers from some major shortcomings.

I will go into first-person on this review to discuss the first criticism.  At one point, Perkins makes an attack on Nate Saint and the missionary organization he was affiliated with.  This attack was unfair, unsubstantiated and honestly tainted the way I listened to the rest of the book.  Read Through Gates of Splendor for the real story of Nate Saint and his companions.  That is a book I could not give a higher recommendation to.

A second criticism of Confessions is that it was lacking a moral.  Perkins more or less blamed his own self-admitted muted conscience on his upbringing.  He said that it twisted him, and that love of money allowed him to take the job.  However, he really never says that what he did was openly wrong or immoral. Though if pressed, he would probably admit that he was wrong.

A third criticism is that the book toward the end became a polemic against the Republican Party and oil companies.  He praised the Carter administration, then accused Reagan of being concerned mostly about the interests of the “corporatocracy”.  The harshest criticism was saved for George H.W. Bush whom he claimed was a leader in the corruption.  He even attacks George W. Bush, but interestingly enough makes no mention whatsoever of the Clinton administration.  This sort of gives away his agenda.

The final and most severe criticism is that Perkins offered absolutely no solutions.  He claims that the world is corrupt at this very deep level but doesn’t seem to think it fixable.  In fact, he says he sold his startup energy company to Ashland Oil.  Ultimately the book projects a sense of hopelessness.

In conclusion, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is very interesting and it does stir up thoughts about the morality of corporations and the concerns of people in developing countries, maybe even thoughts about how to save the world.  But it suffers from some major shortcomings that make it a book I cannot recommend.

Book Review: Growing an Engaged Church

I recently read Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop "Doing Church" and Start Being the Church Again by Albert Winseman.  Here is my official review. The best part of this book is the title.  Read Simple Church instead.

Obviously that is a bit harsh and a bit facetious, but I was really disappointed.  There are few good things pointed out in the book, and overall it felt like the theme was that pragmatism is more important than the Spirit's leading.  It seemed to suggest that, churches should operate by survey and giving the people what they want.  The best point made by the book is that churches where expectations are clear are more effective at ministry.  However, Simple Church makes the same point, and does so more clearly and biblically.

To sum it up, I do not believe that this book on how to make a church more effective even contains one quote from Scripture. That is always a bad sign.

This is not exactly a full review, but I really didn't feel that one was warranted.

If Albert Winseman happens upon this review, I invite him to defend the book in the comments.  Explain to my readers how I missed the point of the book.

Book Review: reThink

I recently read reThink by Steve Wright and Chris Graves.  It is a book that has been recommended to me more than once by friends.  In fact, I even attended the reThink conference in Raleigh last year and was very familiar with the concept of the book even though I had never read it.  After having read it, I would say that it is one of the best books I have ever read on the topic of youth ministry. The author, Steve Wright is the founder of InQuest Ministries and the pastor of student ministries at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh NC.

The thesis of reThink is that student ministry, as it is currently done, is broken.  This is not an attack on youth ministry, but an honest evaluation.  And, by the way, the statistics on 20somethings in church alone are enough to convince me this is the case.  The book then examines the biblical model for youth ministry and suggests ways to implement this model in your church

The authors argue, quite successfully, that the biblical model of ministry puts the job of discipleship on the family.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 probably illustrates this model best.  The family is to make the law of God so central to the life of the family that the children cannot help but absorb it.

The balance of the book is about how student ministries can partner with parents and transition into a biblical model and away from a "separate and entertain" model of ministry.

The only weak point of the book is that it only addresses methods of ministry to students whose parents are either non-believers, or who are unwilling to step up and take their role as primary disciplers in a fleeting way.  This is a substantial problem in modern youth ministry.  Even though it is largely the fault of a couple of generations of broken ministry, it should have been dealt with more fully.

I am fully in agreement with reThink, I would recommend it to anyone interested in youth ministry.  I hope it becomes part of the curriculum in youth ministry classes in Bible colleges everywhere.  I look forward to reading the follow up book, ApParent Privilege, soon.