28 December 2010
Schaeffer, Frank. Crazy for God: How I Grew up as one of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take all (or Almost All) of it Back. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007.
This book is an autobiographical story of the author's life and religious beliefs. I was mildly interested in his upbringing and definitely interested in his change of beliefs. His switch from fundamentalist Christianity to evangelicalism was intriguing to me. Unfortunately, this switch did not happen until after page 300. For a book that is slightly longer than 400 pages, this means quite a commitment before one gets to the "good stuff."
This book is interesting and entertaining, but not very informative, at least, not until after page 300. By all means, read this book and enjoy the author's journey as he chooses to "talk story" for page after page. If, however, you are looking for a treatise on the issues in fundamentalist Christianity, see Scandalous Freedom or Unchristian.
27 December 2010
Schaeffer, Frank. Patience with God. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2009.
This book details the beliefs of several influential athiests and contrasts these beliefs, and their accompanying actions, to similar beliefs and/or actions of evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, I didn't have much patience for this book. I definitely gave the book the "100 page test" that I taught my students to use; unfortunately, this book failed that test miserably. Perhaps I just don't have the brain for this type of reading, but I wouldn't bother with this book if I were you. There are other much more digestible and interesting books on the same topic.
26 December 2010
Gutteridge, Rene. Possession. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010.
Vance Graegan and his family are starting over. After twenty years on the police force, including the investigation of the infamous sniper case, Vance is moving his family to the West Coast. They are hoping to start a new life far away from the memories of the sniper case. But someone else wants to interfere with their plans. Before the Graegans have a chance to settle in, their possessions are held for ransom. While Vance suffers from an undiagnosed case of PTSD, nothing is what it seems. And if the Graegans can't get to the bottom of this situation in time, it may be too late for a new start.
I will admit it: this book was hard to get into. The first eighty pages had me wondering if I would continue. However, the story picked up considerably after that, and I found myself looking forward to the time I had to sit and read. The flashbacks Vance experiences are difficult to read through, as there is no transition from "real time" to "flashback," but having experienced flashbacks myself, I understand that this is how they really work, so I was willing to forgive the author for making the flashbacks so disorienting. Overall, this book is a decent read, definitely worth checking out of the library.
I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.
22 December 2010
Brown, Steve. A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel. West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2004.
Have you ever read something and then wondered how the author jumped in your head and wrote exactly what you'd been thinking? Scandalous Freedom sounds very similar to some of the things I have posted here. Brown's point is simple: in Christ we are really, truly free, but Christians are scared of freedom and end up creating rules for themselves in order to feel like they can do something to help God with this whole salvation and sanctification process.
It doesn't work like that. God really does love us beyond what we can imagine, and He really has already paid our debt through Christ. So we really are free already, free to dance and laugh and smile and be a testimony to the world around us, not of the drudgery of Christian life, but of the amazing freeing power of the gospel.
Scandalous Freedom is fairly well-written and reads really easily (except the sentence containing the words "I woke up unconscious"  which I still can't quite figure out). This book definitely deserves a first (and second) read-through.
19 December 2010
Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
Many of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son as narrated in Luke 15. This is a beautiful parable of extravagant redemption and a great reminder of the gospel. In true English-teacher fashion, Keller asks us to remember the audience of this message. Jesus was speaking not only to the tax-collectors and sinners, the "younger brothers" of His day, but also to the Pharisees, the "older brothers." This message would have been quite offensive to the law-abiding religious leaders.
Keller also points out the end of the story: the younger brother has been redeemed, restored, and forgiven, but the fate of the older brother is not detailed. We don't know if he chose to come in to the party and rejoice at the return of his brother or if he decided to continue to snub his father and earn his father's continued displeasure. Jesus' offer to the Pharisees couldn't be more obvious, and He extends that same offer to us today.
Similar to Christless Christianity, Prodigal God points out the need for the gospel in the life of all people, both those who can see their desperate need of a Savior and those who may think they have it all figured out already. May we who have been saved by grace alone remember that we are also sanctified by grace alone.
Horton, Michael. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
"The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is . . . the idea that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness. . . . We got in by grace but now we need to stay in by following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, commitment, and obedience" (119-120).
Horton's work is an attack on the extremes of American Christianity that have drifted away from the gospel. He casts a critical light both on legalistic churches, where God is angry and people are scared into following lists of man-made rules, and easy-believism churches, where God is like a cosmic therapist or life coach who is just here to improve the quality of your earthly life. Horton's point is clear: we all need to go back to the basics and remember the gospel. We were saved through God's grace and we can live for Him only through His grace.
"Even as a Christian, my faith will actually be weakened when it is assumed that I already know the gospel and now I just need a steady diet of instructions. I will naturally revert to my moralistic impulse and conclude either that I am fully surrendered or that I cannot pull this off and might as well stop trying. When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression" (130).
This book is not quickly digestible, and the author does spend major portions of several chapters focusing on the works of various other authors; however, I would still put this book in the "worthy of checking out of the library" category. My students would remind me that hard things are good for us, and making a person's brain hurt will likely not kill him. This book does serve as a good reminder of the importance of the gospel in the life of a Christian.
18 December 2010
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and as I did my googling to find more information, I was shocked to discover that such a book existed. "Really?" my brain said, "somone has written about this?" In all of my reading and searching, I have never, ever found a book written by a Christian who struggles with homosexuality. Never.
This book reads a lot more like a memoir than a textbook, and I believe Hill did this on purpose. He is not writing from the perspective of having all the answers, but rather describing his journey to find those answers. I appreciated this change in perspective, and I was intrigued by the concepts he wrestled with as he struggled to discover what healing from homosexuality would look like in his life.
It seems that most people have in their heads the idea that healing from homosexuality looks like, well, heterosexuality, that a person who struggles with homosexual desires needs to actively pursue a desire for an attraction to members of the opposite sex. I know people who have struggled with homosexuality and are now "healed" according to this definition. But there are also scores of Christians who are seeking to glorify the Lord in everything, including their sexuality, yet still struggle with homosexual desires. Is it right to say that they should pursue wholeness in the form of heterosexuality?
Hill explores the concept of a "celibate gay Christian," that is, a Christian who is tempted by homosexuality but chooses not to act on those desires. Is it possible that God would choose not to heal a person of this temptation, but rather to give them the grace to live with the temptation and to glorify Him through it? Hill believes so, and 2 Corinthians 12 seems to agree with him. Just as it is possible for a person to be tempted to steal, but choose not to steal, or to be tempted to lie, but choose not to lie, it should also be possible for a person to be tempted with homosexuality, yet choose not to act on it. After all, temptation in and of itself is not wrong. Jesus Himself was tempted, yet He never sinned.
13 December 2010
Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.
I can sum up this book in one word: wow. The basic idea behind this book is this: scores of young people (ages 18-30) are leaving the church or are turned off by Christianity, and the authors wanted to know why. This book is a culmination of years of study and thousands of surveys conducted both of people within and outside of the church. The news isn't pretty.
Many Busters (my generation - people in their late twenties and thirties) and Mosaics (people in their late teens and twenties) are completely turned off to the idea of Christianity because of things they see in Christians around them. The scariest part of this survey was the discovery that many people within the church, those who can claim status as committed Christians and who are truly "born again," agreed with their non-Christian counterparts. The problems in the church are so widespread and so rampant that even believers see these problems.
The bottom line: as Christians, our testimony has become an anti-testimony. Instead of inviting people to Christ, we are pushing them away. The authors explore six main issues that turn people away from Christianity and suggest alternative perceptions the church should pursue.
What needs to be said about this book will not fit in one post alone. I will be continuing my discussion of this book, including detailing the six issues and their solutions, in later posts. For now, though, if you are reading this, please step away from your computer, head to your local library or bookstore, and pick up this book. This problem simply cannot be ignored.
Marsden, George. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.
This book was recommended to me, and I was shocked to discover that it was available at my public library. I have been very interested in studying the roots of Fundamentalism and the split between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.
This book reads much like a history textbook. The information is fairly interesting, although I will have to admit that I began skimming about halfway through the book. I wished there had been more details about Fundamentalism specifically; I was hoping for more information about the movement in the last 100 years.
Having spent twelve years in the Fundamentalist world, specifically in the realm of education, I was already familiar with most of the information in this book, so it did not hold my interest as long as it might have otherwise. I'm sure it would be a great resource or starting point for a person who is unfamiliar with Fundamentalism, but a person who spent any amount of time with history textbooks from Christian schools need not bother.
11 December 2010
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009.
Having read The Tipping Point and Blink, I was excited when I found this book. Gladwell explores the concept of success in this book. What makes a person successful? Is it family background? Luck? Hard work? Inherited genius? Cultural issues?
Using data collected from diverse groups such as Canadian hockey players, New York lawyers, and Korean airline pilots, Gladwell explains how our background has much more to do with our success than we would otherwise believe.
This is an absolutely fascinating read. I highly recommend it.
PS - I have posted more than 200 times this year and have 10,000 hits on this blog. A big thank you to those of you who read and recommend.
06 December 2010
Chenoweth, Kristin and Joni Rodgers. A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages. New York: Touchstone, 2009.
I was handed this book under the assumption that I would be interested in reading about Kristin Chenoweth. I was quite interested, not only because of her hilarious song "Taylor, the Latte Boy" but also because of her appearance in the Broadway musical Wicked. I really, really enjoyed the performance of Wicked that I saw here in San Francisco, so I was intrigued by this book.
Parts of the book were very interesting. Chenoweth definitely has an entertaining writing style, and I enjoyed some of the anecdotes she shared throughout her story. Other parts of the book were slower and more difficult to get through, and I found myself skimming through pages at times.
Overall, I would say this book is mildly interesting. I enjoyed reading it mostly because I don't have another book on my stack just yet, but I will not be adding this book to my collection. Check it out from the library if you are really interested.
05 December 2010
Blyth, Catherine. The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure. New York: Gotham Books, 2009.
I did not pick up this book because I enjoy conversation. On the contrary, I picked up this book because I wanted to learn how to participate in conversation. I am a great conversation spectator; if you ever see me at a party or some other gathering, especially if it involves mostly people I do not know or am not super-comfortable around, you will probably find me sitting and listening to someone else's conversation. My brain just can't keep up with the verbal volley around me enough to throw in my own interesting quip or story.
This book, unfortunately, was not entitled "How to Make an Introverted Person into a Great Conversationalist." It was an interesting read, nonetheless. I learned a lot about different types of conversation and the importance of conversation in general. There's even a chapter about how to tell lies. (We'll save that discussion for another post.) Overall this book was interesting enough for me to read one chapter at each lunch break during a few weeks at work. It was not a book that I would stay up all night reading, but it was definitely worth checking out of the library, especially when my pile of unread books has grown dangerously low.
04 December 2010
It is that time of year, folks. Here is my list of the top ten books I read in 2010, in no particular order:
- Alcorn, Randy. If God is Good. see my comments here
- Marquardt, Elizabeth. Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.
- Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
- Pratchett, Terry. Wee Free Men
- Holmes, Sara. Operation Yes.
- Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me.
- Lehman, Carolyn. Strong at the Heart.
- Hall, Ron and Denver Moore. Same Kind of Different As Me.
- Anderson, Kristin. Life, In Spite of Me.
- Carlson, Melody. Finding Alice.
- 5 non-fiction books
- 5 fiction books
- 1 historical fiction
- 1 Christian living
- 2 biography/memiors
- 1 book about abuse
- 1 fantasy
- 3 kids novels
- 2 novels for adults
If I had to pick only one book for you to read off of this list, I would recommend If God is Good. It is a thick one, but well worth your time (and those of you who are reading this from Guam can find it in your library).