Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nonfiction Review: The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul

In "The Consequences of Ideas," R.C. Sproul summarizes the thoughts of various historic philosophers, from Aristotle and Plato to Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzsche. Sproul's descriptions are mostly clear and concise, with occasional commentary or Christian response. I would have appreciated more explanations of how these ideas affect the modern world (the "consequences" are not actually discussed much) - especially since these are complicated ideas that seem silly and meaningless at times - but I understand the limitations of length. Ideas discussed include physical and nonphysical reality, being and nonbeing, phenomenal and noumenal worlds, knowledge and existence, cause and effect, Skepticism and Religion, Existential Faith and Existential Atheism, society and ethics, and much more. Skimming through the book to take down notes, I found my understanding of these philosophies increased. The book may well be worth a second take.

Note - I did use an e-reader version of this book, and several of the informative charts provided were cut off.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Study Review: Jesus - Listening for His Voice

My attitude toward Bible studies has changed since I last reviewed a Kay and David Arthur "40 Minute" group study, so I thought I would give it another try, as I've wanted to get back into a regular reading of God's Word. I found myself once again disappointed, however, with "Jesus: Listening for His Voice."

While I enjoy the format of the study (questions with text provided), I do not see the point of asking questions like, "What did you learn from marking so and so." Other questions did not seem to have answers. The remaining questions did point me to look at the text in detail, but that was not enough to give me any actual insight, which is sorely lacking aside from an occasional side box pointing out one thing or another. With no actual teaching included, groups are left to make their own (possibly faulty) guesses.

Ultimately, though, what really bothered me about this study was that its material seems irrelevant to the promised topic. The first of six sessions did provide some explanation, defining listening as hearing God speak through His Word. Beyond this, the study seemed to expect participants to merely apply the principle of listening while reading the passages presented - something that you could do with any study.

Other small issues bothered me. Some questions had too little white space for answers while others had too much white space. And the study glosses over certain passages in favor of spending more time on other passages.

I do like how marking various words and pieces draws your attention to what is at play in each passage, but you will need a solid group with solid answers if this study is to be successful.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Nonfiction Review: Man Myth Messiah

I had the great pleasure of reading Rice Broocks' "God's Not Dead" before it inspired the film of the same title. It was one of the first books I read about the defense of the Christian faith (I've read many more since). This first book focused on how science and God do not rule each other out. Now Broocks has written a follow up, "Man Myth Messiah," which focuses on the historical and Biblical Jesus. The subtitle reads "The Evidence Behind God's Not Dead 2." Unfortunately, there is not much evidence here.

Broocks eloquently discusses what the Bible says about Jesus, the significance of the Gospel message, and how and why Christians are to share that message. However, Broocks' "minimal facts" approach to defending the Bible and resurrection's validity relies heavily on Scriptural support and very simple arguments that have been put forward in more detail in other books of the same subject. While Broocks does occasionally go into detail - such as in a basic overview of false claims that Jesus parallels mythic figures - his book lacks explanation overall. I have discussed these subjects with atheists and can say with confidence that, while important elementary defenses to be aware of, Broocks' ideas as presented here will not go far with some audiences.

While I do recommend "Man Myth Messiah" for the Christian just beginning to explore how to defend his faith, I must do so with a word of caution. Broocks' chapter on miracles supports extreme Charismatic teachers and faith healers. Personally, I believe in modern miracles, but not quite to the extent that many Charismatics declare. The actual teachings Broocks presents do not line up with the "healers" he claims to believe. He recognizes that we will have troubles in this life, whereas the Word of Faith movement behind the "healings" he believes to have occurred would have us believe suffering and temptation in life occur only for those who do not have enough faith. It makes little sense to me that Broocks would claim experience is not needed for certainty, yet put the experience of "miracles" above right teaching.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Children's Book Review: Bedtime Snuggles

"Bedtime Snuggles" by Patricia Reeder Eubank provides quaint illustrations and rhymes following various animal families as they prepare to go to bed. The hardback book has thick pages with large print and beautiful watercolor paintings. Although some of the rhymes do not read as well as others. the final pages - which show a human mother rocking her child to sleep - reflect the comfort and warmth the reader will share with his or her children. I can easily picture my own youthful self settling in for this storybook as read by my loving father.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Good God by Lucas Miles

In "Good God," author Lucas Miles rightfully reminds us that evil and temptation do not come from the one true Christian God and that we must be willing to take credit for our own actions. Miles gives fascinating new insights to key Scriptures to support his points - insights that have influenced my own view of suffering. However, his book could benefit from a summary chapter clarifying his beliefs.

In addition to some questionable arguments (he disagrees with Calvin and Spurgeon, and, in my opinion, misinterprets their quotes), Miles presents a confusing and seemingly contradictory position. On the one hand, Miles says that God does not allow bad things to happen, but rather, allows us to allow bad things to happen. On the other hand, he does not seem to have a problem with believing that God indeed can and does intervene (so if He can, why not always? He does not appear to limit himself as much as Miles states). Miles equates "allowing" with "causing," and therefore says God cannot allow or know all that happens and be good at the same time. Yet there is no reference to the many intellectual, philosophical debates about God's sovereignty and omniscience (i.e. did God set up the best possible world, knowing what all other possible worlds would look like?). And what about God's constant upkeep of creation?

Miles also neglects to consider God's right as righteous creator - as in, we are all sinners and therefore even a good God could wipe out the human race if it were not for His merciful covenants and promises and His overall plan to save man through Christ. We must also not forget that just because God does not cause evil, does not mean He cannot use His Spirit and other circumstances for good (which, again, Miles seems to somewhat admit to).

I left "Good God" feeling that much of what Miles believes could easily be reconciled to what he argues against if only we took better consideration of what we mean by the language we use. Still, while the message here is positive, it also includes an Arminian point of view and other views that many Orthodox Christians will strongly disagree with (he comes awfully close to Word of Faith prosperity preaching). Overall, Miles misses many key pieces to the discussion and leave the reader more confused than informed.

*Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Review: Journey to Jesus DVD Study

While the "Journey to Jesus" DVD Group Study focuses on understanding and building a road to Islam, it also makes an interesting Bible study, since it includes examinations of important, basic Christian doctrines in its extra materials. Although, those extra materials may be a bit much for outside homework for some study groups. The study sessions, themselves, vary in length, including both mini-dramas and presentations with slides that last anywhere from two to eleven minutes. The slides are also somewhat distorted in proportion (they're a bit squished, but easily readable). Leader guides and study questions (for both the slides and the dramas) make it easy to customize for an individual study group. Video sessions and extra materials cover everything from cultural considerations to history lessons and very basic beginner defenses of true Christianity. Mini-dramas show work, home and school relationships, with tolerable actors and script. Overall, this video study is an informative starting point, even though it leaves much of reality to the participant's own trials and errors.

*Disclaimer: I received this study for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Children's Book Review: The Berenstain Bears' Easter Blessings

"The Berenstain Bears' Easter Blessings" is an adorable and bright board book that teaches children to count their blessings. The story begins with the classic family giving thanks in prayer for their Easter breakfast. When Gramps and Gran come by with Easter treats, the cubs must wait until after church to enjoy their candy. In the mean time, their parents and grandparents teach them to count their blessings, such as a glorious spring morning, a fine tree house, friends and family who fill various occupations necessary to society, and a lovely chapel in the woods. Now at church, the family listens as their pastor gives thanks for the greatest blessing of all: "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." It's a simple way to help children consider the meaning of Easter and how Christ's blessing affects all aspects of our lives. Parents reading this book to their children may enjoy creating various voices for the different Berenstain Bears. The book also opens the door for lessons in vocation and the purpose of the church.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Pathway to Freedom

In "Pathway to Freedom," Alistair Begg begins with a clear and eye-opening explanation of the purpose of God's law, its functions, and its application in our new lives with Christ. He then spends each chapter looking at one of the Ten Commandments. While Begg sometimes left me with more questions than answers (particularly his chapter on the Sabbath), the author also forced me to reconsider the commandments. I have no problem recognizing my inadequacy and sin, but here I found reason to take the simplest commandment such as "honor your father and mother" more seriously. Begg discusses real-life questions and applications with plenty of Scriptural support. He divides each chapter into easy-to-read sections, but Begg's straightforward and candid points also contain enough gems to warrant a second read.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Christian Fiction Review: On Lone Star Trail

Sadly, "On Lone Star Trail" is Amanda Cabot's final "Texas Crossroads" novel. Cabot has given readers three beautiful romance stories set at Rainbow's End, a Christian resort in the hills of Texas. Each installment has included compelling characters and themes that strike at the core of our human nature.

In "Lone Star Trail," Gillian Hodge tries to understand her identity and purpose after losing her career due to a tragic accident. On her way to visit a friend at Rainbow's End, she meets TJ Benjamin, a roaming traveler and former "RV Minister" dealing with the loss of his wife and his anger toward God. The two connect as they help the local community in various ways - TJ as a teacher and Gillian as the organizer of a new senior center. Meanwhile, a nearby "celebrity" of sorts takes notice of Gillian and asks her on a date. I would have enjoyed a more in depth look at this other suitor, but really the story is about Gillian and TJ.

The spiritual themes stay light-hearted and easy to ponder while addressing important issues. And although the book isn't much of a thriller - not much really happens - Cabot excels at making her slice-of-life novel a page-turner with real characters and real dilemmas. I couldn't put the book down, and am sad to see Rainbow's End go. Every girl could use a Rainbow's End in her life.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.