Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: The Devil is in the Details by Tony Kessinger

Confession time. I received Tony Kessinger's "The Devil is in the Details" for review about two years ago. I never reviewed it. Having now read it - devour might be a better term - I wish I had read it sooner. Despite a few, very small flaws and lack of clarity in certain parts (which are naturally complicated), Kessinger provides a surprising, informative book that is about more than just evil and sin.

Kessinger starts with describing the basic history of evil presented in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and passages regarding Satan's fall. Here, he presents interesting facts that add to the Biblical account and retells the Biblical story without becoming boring. Kessinger then moves on to discussing Satan and his demons with more specific regard to what they are capable of, as well as how that works with God's omnipotence, leadership and position (the highest possible) - using Job's predicament as an example. This discussion of Satan naturally leads to explanation of the end times, which is where Kessinger sometimes confuses. 

Toward the end of his book, Kessinger spends a good amount of space discussing some of the false and confusing teachings out there. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, but also the most controversial part of the book - especially when he brings up Arminian beliefs versus Calvinism. Overall, this section of the book stands firm, offering thought-provoking and challenging arguments. But this is also the section where Kessinger names Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen as preachers of the prosperity gospel, and I can see where he gets that from, but I do not think Meyers and Osteen are as extreme as the clearly false prosperity gospel Kessinger presents. 

Kessinger also names Peter Kreeft as a believer of religious pluralsim, referring to one particular chapter in a book of Kreeft's that talks about an out of body experience Kreeft claims to have had. I don't know about the out of body experience, but I do know that Kessinger gives no context to his quick accusation - no context of the book the chapter he refers to is from and no context of Kreeft's other works. And Kessinger's description of religious pluralism is one similar enough to his description of universalism to confuse and cause the reader to draw the wrong conclusions about Kreeft. I actually had Kreeft as a professor my freshman year at The King's College, and I never got the impression that he believed in universalism or any kind of religious pluralism that lead to universalism, nor do I believe TKC would hire a professor who believed such things. I did email TKC about it, and this was their response:
Thanks for taking the time to write us and share your concern. Before taking Kessinger at his word, you might consider listening to this short talk given by Peter Kreeft called "Ecumenicism Without Compromise." In it, Kreeft states that ecumenicism cannot include compromise on beliefs.
Therefore, I am not convinced of Kessinger's statements on Kreeft. Those statements are very short, however, and the general principle behind them - that universalism is wrong and does not agree with Jesus or the Bible - still stands.

"The Devil is in the Details" seems in part like a mini "Systematic Theology" (anyone who attends a Christian college will know what I'm talking about here), give or take a few items. The book does not seem cohesive overall, but it makes a great textbook, and I would love to see Kessinger expand it into something as extensive as "Systematic Theology." Meanwhile, this book will go on my bookshelf as a book to be reread in the future in order to commit more of it to memory.

Review: God Forsaken by Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza presents an incredible amount of evidence in his book "God Forsaken" with the goal of disproving the atheist's argument that a loving God is not compatible with the God in the Bible or the world full of evils that we live in. In fact, D'Souza does such a good job of presenting the various arguments against Christianity and God that, until he begins to refute them with just as much articulation and persuasion, you almost begin to believe that he is an atheist. But then again, he does hang out a lot with atheists, and he debates with them often.

D'Souza presents a clear and scientifically supported argument for the fine-tuned universe, a universe in which human beings could not exist at all (or exist with free will) without the perceived moral and natural (disasters) evil in the world. In addition to this, he explains pieces of the Bible that are easily misunderstood and shows how the Christian God can be both loving and allow evil to exist. I will not go into detail summarizing his arguments here. There are long, but they are extremely convincing.

My one problem with D'Souza's book is that he talks about evolution in his discussion of the fine-tuned universe, and he clearly believes in evolution - maybe even the big bang (which he also references a few times). The way he presents evolution in his book makes sense, and it does not conflict with the Biblical account. But it does leave me with questions. He explains how death could exist before man (such as with the dinosaurs), but not how that is compatible with the perfect world of the Garden of Eden. He talks about the evolution of man, of consciousness and intelligence, but never points out how that works with what is presented in the Bible - how man could be unique and made in God's image if he evolves in the same way as all the other creatures out there, albeit a bit more conscious, moral and intelligent. It's great to see how even the atheist's scientific arguments of Darwinism can actually work with the Bible and not against it, but I wanted more from D'Souza on this topic. Maybe there wasn't enough room for it in this book, but it left me hanging and I hope he expands on it more in another book.

Another thought: While the evidence seems to point to the world we live in as necessary for our existence, clearly the Bible indicates that originally those evils did not exist in the Garden of Eden before the fall. So if God created a world free of moral evil and crimes of nature then, why can't we live in such a world now? At least when it comes to crimes of nature (Moral evil is easily explained by the fall.). Was the Garden of Eden then on a different planet? I'm not saying the fall could not have affected the way the world operates, but why did the fall compel the universe to work in this way with no other way possible for human beings to live? When did the necessary laws for human beings to exist and for our fine-tuned universe to exist change? I'm quite certain there's an explanation there, but D'Souza does not give it.

That said, I could not put this book down. I gobbled it up. D'Souza writes with such clarity, he easily persuades. A person would have to be blind, ignorant and hard hearted to not take something away from this book. I highly recommend it. And there are plenty of gems to be found in it that I have not mentioned here.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review of it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Anything by Jennie Allen

Once I delved into Jennie Allen's "Anything" and understood what the book was about, my skeptical nature kicked in, expecting yet another book emphasizing missions and evangelism to an extreme degree. But Allen's writing moved me in a surprising way. While her content is not as explicit on the everyday applications of giving up everything to God, it has just enough to ward off my criticisms.

Allen still encourages readers to give everything and anything to God, but she does it in a way that does not push - a way that seems to imply we can give control to God, obey Him, go through the hard times of life with His help, and still make it out happy - and perhaps even do all this without getting involved in missions. My only complaint is that she could have explored things more from the perspective of the average Christian. Allen is a writer, speaker and pastor's wife, so evangelism seems to come naturally to her. I wanted to know how I could use my talents for God without becoming an evangelist.

I'll defend my faith when called upon and I'll live my faith out but I do not feel called to missions or evangelism. I found answers in Allen's book, but only because I was really looking for them. The more I read, the more my soul stirred. And while I'm no missionary, I found myself inspired to consider what it means to give anything to God. I desire God's will for my life, and highly recommend Jennie Allen's "Anything" to anyone with the same desire.

*Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher for free in exchange for my honest review of it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Spirit Fighter

To create a young adult fantasy novel with the Bible as inspiration requires a lot of stretching of facts and imagination. Jerel Law's "Spirit Fighter" does just that, taking a verse in the Old Testament and using it to ask what would happen if, once again, fallen angels had children with humans.

Jonah Stone's mother is the result of one such union, making him and his two siblings quarterlings - part angel. Just as Jonah begins to discover the truth about his heritage and as his angel powers begin to develop, fallen angels kidnap his mother and Elohim sends his angels to give Jonah and his sister on a mission to save her. On their journey, the two learn more about trusting in God as they meet and fight various dark creatures.

The situations Law comes up with and the humanization of certain angel characters do come across as a bit of stretch, Biblically. But they make for an entertaining story that, although not as well-written as other young adult books, is hard to put down - plus it comes with plenty of reminders of God's power and presence.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review of it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Despite its spiritualistic sounding name (like something out of Buddhism or Hinduism), "Discovering Your Spiritual Center" by David Teems promised a sound Christian look into Psalm 119 and the Christian devotional life. How sound Teems' writing is, I cannot attest to, for I got absolutely nothing out of his book. I tried. I read it cover to cover. And strangely enough, it was a relaxing read - relaxing enough to keep me going in hope of improved content. But I never found anything worthwhile.

Teems spends the majority of his book talking about his own personal experience. That would be fine if it had any application, but Teems has a hard time staying on topic. His organization is poor and his topics are not executed in an engaging way. By the time I reached the actual devotionals based on Psalm 119 (found in the last third of the book), I was relieved to find some real content. But here, too, Teems' organization leads him off the straight path and into zig zag territory. He begins to provide insights on the alphabet behind Psalm 119, but his explanations there don't last long enough to provide anything that sticks. Teems attempts to give small bits of information to make readers think about each individual part of Psalm 119. His main aim is to get the reader into the habit of reading God's Word out loud and considering it word by word at the same time. In that much, he does somewhat succeed, but his own thoughts on the passages are so out of order and unorganized, I had a difficult time making any conclusions.

At best, I can recommend that any person read the latter half of Teems' book with the use of it as a devotional in mind. That alone is not worth the price of the book, however. Teems would have been much better off skipping all of his personal stories and expanding on the specific insights on Psalm 119. Or he could have made a coffee table devotional out of the devotions that make up the end of his book.

*Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review of it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Our Favorite Sins

Todd Hunter's "Our Favorite Sins" has the right idea. For the most part, Hunter's insights are thought-provoking and inspiring. Many of his chapter start with specific examples of sins, only to veer away from the topic at hand to discuss sin in a more general sense. This lack of organization would annoy if it weren't for the strength of the rest of his writing.

I found it difficult to put down the book as Hunter found more and more ways to explain his main point - that our evil desires come from within and must be reordered if we are to deal with and quit our sins. Hunter uses the example of Joseph, whose desires were reordered in such a way that he was able to think of God first when Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce him. He refused her.

Hunter says that we can refuse sin, too, if we reorder our desires. Hunter's suggestions, which he gives in the last quarter of the book, clearly show his Anglican background, however. While reading and memorizing prayers, listening to Scripture at church and participating in communion are all good things, Hunter seems to place their importance over that of the Bible itself, of reading the Bible for oneself. And his insistence that these "spiritual disciplines" be done on a regular daily basis morning, day and night would likely have most Christians overwhelmed.

I understand the importance of making certain things regular parts of our lives in order to grow spiritually and stay strong, but Hunter never addresses the possibility that those things can be taken too far - to the point of creating a works-based faith. He never really seems to get to the heart of solution, either. His insights on our sinful desires are wonderful, but there is so much more to be said and done beyond the few spiritual disciplines Hunter focuses on. I know this from personal experience.

So, if you can read the beginning of Hunter's book by itself, or read the whole book with what I've written in mind, you'll be able to take a lot away from this book. Just be careful.

*This book was given to Poorhouse Dad for free in exchange for my honest review of it.