Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: 50 Crucial Questions

I normally don't care for books that make countless references to other products, but John Piper and Wayne Grudem actually give straightforward detailed, but concise answers to their "50 Crucial Questions" on the roles of men and women as put forward by the Bible. It only took me one day to read, but I made several highlights in my copy. Answers deal effectively with how our roles in church and home affect society, what is meant by "submission" and "head," how to correct abuses of the Bible's position, how Jesus treated women, what roles women played in the Bible accounts, and much more. The authors' position sticks clearly with the view that men and women are equal but complementary. It's not an extensive defense, but it is thorough.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Nonfiction Review: How to Be an Atheist by Mitch Stokes

I'm not entirely sure why Mitch Stokes titled his book "How to Be an Atheist." And only about a third of his book addresses his subtitle, "Why Many Skeptics Aren't Skeptical Enough." In fact, some of Stokes' own skepticism seems to hurt a Christian's defense as much as help it. Unfortunately, Stokes sandwiches his quest to lay out and debunk various versions of Atheism with jargon. His second section on science is particularly difficult to follow. However, if you can wade through some of the more complicated sections, you'll find some great - oftentimes unconventional - points.

In summary, Stokes discusses philosophy, what we are able to see and know, and the "fork" of fact and experience. According to Stokes, science is based on theory and inference to the best explanation, both of which are influenced by personal beliefs and sometimes unreliable evidence, which satisfies the experiment but contradicts other equally satisfying evidence for the same situation. I found Stokes' discussion of an atheist's morality fascinating. I had never seen detailed explanations for morality from an atheist's point of view before. It was great to find information beyond the typical "Atheism equals no real morality" line. Stokes covers the evolutionary, nihilistic, and "state of brain" theories which match naturalism. According to Stokes, naturalism equals a lack of true free will and purpose. It also fails to define "well-being" and "ought" without relying on sentiment, and it leaves the door open for morality to evolve into something we would currently consider wrong. He ends his book rather suddenly with the idea that morality is not person-independent since it relies on God's character, but rather human-independent.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Lord, Change My Attitude by James Macdonald

"Lord, Change My Attitude Before It's Too Late" by James Macdonald uses the Old Testament Israelite wilderness story and various New Testament passages to look in detail at the Biblical view of complaint, coveting, criticism, doubt, and rebellion. Macdonald addresses the opposite of each of these negative attitudes and ends each chapter with insightful questions. There's also a great study guide at the end of the book. (I wish I had realized this. I would have preferred to do the study while I read the book.)

I greatly appreciated Macdonald's strong reliance on Scripture. There's a lot more to take in here than you might initially think - this is definitely a book I will keep on my shelf.  It's also important to note that Macdonald never falls into the pit of the Word of Faith or Prosperity Gospel movements. Macdonald focuses on how our attitudes affect our spiritual lives. Without submission to God, we will feel like we live in a wilderness. The format is a bit crazy - three or more fonts, lots of bold (including all Scripture references) - but you get used to it.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

Fiction Review: The Valley of the Dry Bones by Jerry B Jenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins has improved miles since his more recent books, which were more word-for-word Scripture than narrative. In "The Valley of the Dry Bones," he still opts for quoting the Bible over re-wording it to fit the modern tongue. In a way, I appreciated this for once, since the context was end-times prophecy and using Sola Scriptura seemed more sensitive to the less Charismatic Christian.

After reading an inconsistent and poorly written Prologue, I was relieved to find the entire book was told from Zeke's perspective. Although Jenkins' writing style is still a bit elementary, I did find the premise and characters interesting. Terrorism, water mongers, life and death are all at stake in an abandoned, drought-stricken California (which could use better description from Jenkins, as I kept imagining a Mad Max desert wasteland). A small group has stayed behind to witness to those who could not move out of the state. Among them, Zeke begins to hear directly from the Lord. A sequel must be in the works (here's hoping), since the conclusion, while wrapped up well, did not give any purpose (or hint at a future purpose) for Zeke's communication with God.

There are some very nice side stories. Zeke and the group's doctor confront their pride. A threatening seller of water has a beautiful character arc in which he comes to know Jesus. The local American Indians also consider Christ's message. The group's pastor deals with his wife's impending death. And the government enters the scene for suspected terrorism, as well. None of it is particularly realistic, nor is the action all that prevalent, but "Valley of the Dry Bones" was indeed a surprisingly enjoyable read. And as far as Jerry B Jenkins books go, it's not half bad.

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

Fiction Review: Land of Silence

It took me a great deal of time to become invested in "Land of Silence," but about a third of the way through I found myself drawn to the characters, even though I found their stories somewhat dull and episodic.

Elianna - the woman whose bleeding Jesus healed - tells her story in first person, and author Tessa Afshar does a beautiful job of creating Elianna's more reflective moments. These were the moments that kept me reading as Elianna dealt with bitterness, illness, guilt, her need for a loving father, and her hope for a family of her own. I could not put it down once I got into it. However, I have to say that I did not particularly care for Afshar's "this happened, then this happened" writing style. Conversations seemed scripted, and even with her simple style, Afshar often uses larger, jargon wording.

The story is well developed once it begins to really unfold - Elianna works for her family's fabric business and deals with unwanted attention from a Roman soldier - but the conclusion feels rushed. The ending brings together all the heart-felt themes Afshar builds up, but does not go through to the crucifixion and resurrection. But I did enjoy the realistic characters and the way Afshar brought different people from the Bible together so well. I would be interested in reading another book from Afshar, as this was my first of hers.

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