Tuesday, May 26, 2015

movie review: Mad Max: Fury Road

my impressions from the preview were right

I'd seen previews to the recent Mad Max movie, and hadn't been impressed with what I'd seen. Then the movie came out, and I saw good things being said and written about it, so I decided to take the risk, and see it.

Overall, I think my impressions from the previews was closer to the mark, at least in my opinion.

I can say that a lot of effort was made to make it interesting and entertaining. The movie is basically a long car chase set in two parts, with lots of strange-looking vehicles, lots of strange-looking people, a main bad guy who looked like a Predator gone to seed, and rather more eye candy than I was comfortable with. Perhaps one big reason I didn't like was all this strangeness, or grotesqueness.

But for all of the action, the explosions, the flame-throwing guitar, the porcupine-line cars, the biker gang of old ladies, I found the whole thing rather boring. Even the budding romance between the rogue warboy and the runaway wife only added a small bit of heart to the dystopian road trip.

We knew who the bad guys were because they were bloated and deformed. We knew who the good girls were because they were young and beautiful. I will give some props to Hardy as he plays Max as an atypical movie hero, someone who came rather closing to living up the word "mad".

But the closest the movie comes to having a heart is when one of the bad guys laments the death of his unborn brother.

In the end, I was glad when this movie was over, and have no plans to see it again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

book review--The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves

good account of one way the church is going wrong

For several years, I was kind of on the edge of a lot of the things this author writes about, going to some of the types of churches he mentions such as Vineyard churches, and being a member of a missions organization that while claiming to be nondenominational was still very much Charismatic and taught things like taking our cities for God and spiritual warfare that involved activities like rebuking and binding Satan and claiming territory and resources.

The author of this book does a good job of comparing what he was being taught to what the Bible says, and finding the things being taught to not be taught in the Bible. It is a sad testimony about churches that far too many of them don't do the same. The author points out some of the lame excuses church leaders' use to allow unbiblical activities and spiritual manifestation to be practiced in their churches.

One of the best things this author does is to point out what is really behind these practices—elitism. These bizarre manifestation like drunk in the spirit and acting like animals are all dressed up in pride—this is the next big move of God, this is cutting-edge stuff, this puts you ahead of the average church-goer. And going further, if you accept what is being taught and attend the conferences and school and stuff like that, then you'll walk in miracles all the time, you'll become the head and not the foot, you'll be a part of the Elijah or Joshua Generation or Joel's Army or become a super-apostle or some other thing meant to play to your pride.

This book is well worth reading. I can recommend it very highly

Friday, May 1, 2015

book review: Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

dominionism from the left

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Trying to give a fair evaluation to this book has been rather tricky. There were some things in it that seemed ok, but my overall impression was that the book was rather iffy, even trite.


For one thing, Scripture is used in a haphazard fashion. “When Jesus spoke about hell, He referred to the town dump right outside Jerusalem”, p. 60. So, in the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, the rich man died and ended up in the town dump? On pages 34-35, they tried to draw a parallel between Jesus' temptation in the wilderness and His baptism and Israel's time in the wilderness and then crossing the Jordan into The Promised Land, but they get the events of Jesus' life backwards—in Matthew 3 and 4, Jesus is first baptized, then He goes into the wilderness. “You might be convince that you're a sheep, and you might find out it's better to be a goat.”, p. 68. Umm...goats are those who will be taken from God's presence. I'm pretty sure it's never better to be a goat.


On pp. 105-107, in writing about the book of Galatians, the authors sum up the concerns Paul expressed in the book in this way, “...we can make a mess out of God's gift of life”. This is, at the best way to try to read it, a trite way of summing up how the Galatian Christians were adding their own works to try to earn salvation, and coming close to falling into apostasy. “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, or in the community that wears His name. Fred Phelps is just as forgiven as are those who rejoiced when he died”. This is definitely playing fast and loose with Paul's statement in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I see no reason to think that Phelps was in Christ Jesus, and thus wasn't condemned. This statement by these authors seems to hint that they hold a universalist view.

Following a similar path I remember when reading some of the books by Emergents, these guys have littered their book with deconstructive “What if...?” questions. Their trite “Jesus party” mentality is, frankly, offensive. The way they continually slam the church because of bad press is so thin as to be laughable, especially since the accusations are clearly false.

This book isn't a complete waste, but it does a poor job of teaching Scripture, and honestly comes off more as a piece of propaganda then as a work of theology. It's seem like their trying to entice people in with all kinds of sweet thing while covering over or explaining away the bad things, like the statement about hell that I referred to earlier in this review. In the end, it's all law, and all their own law—do you hang out with people who are like yourself? Well, that's just bad. Do you care about the truth of the biblical accounts? That's not important. To put it simply, they are “Deeds, not creeds” types.

Finally, there is simply the dominionist note of this book. “We are to steward God's world and to exercise loving dominion over creation”. I've read books by dominionists who are on the conservative side of social, political, and thoelogical things, and it's not the first time I've noticed those on the left having similar ambitions. It's always amazing how much those on either side can make of the request in Jesus' prayer that “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. But what else does all of this talk about making earth into heaven, about earth being the womb of heaven, about heaven not being far away, mean except that it's our job to make earth like heaven? From the left or from the right, it's all dominionism, and I want nothing to do with either of them. Man's attempts to make a paradise on earth cannot but fail, and badly, no matter how much you dress it up in christian-like rags.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

book review—Wandering Stars by Keith Gibson

very informative

A few years ago, a church decided to have a circus perform during one of their services. The sad part isn't so much that this happened, but that far too much of the church has become a circus in its own right.

This book gives the reader a good view of one aspect of the unfunny circus that is the church today, with numerous examples of the unbiblical things taught by those who call themselves apostles and prophets, the inaccurate prophecies the so-called prophets have given, and the ways these people who call themselves apostles and prophets try to cover up their bad teachings and keep anyone from keeping them accountable.

This is a very important and informative book. Far too many people in the church today are being deceived, and books like this are there to help people see the deceptions. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

book review—Rise of the Fallen by Chuck Black

interesting, but not completely buying what he's teaching

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
 
I'll deal with this book like I did the first, as a story as regarding it's theology.
 
Story—First, don't come into this book expecting a typical sequel to the first book in the series. I give the author some credit for doing something a bit different, perhaps even risky. And I'll give him more credit for doing it fairly well, story-wise.
 
A lot happens in this story, and it held my interest. The main character gets developed pretty well, as the reader sees him in various historical and modern-day situations.
 
Theology—This is a bit tricky, because the author adds some speculative things that, if read wrongly, could come off as theological. To that end, the Reader's Guide was helpful for understanding what the author inserted on his own.
 
On the good side, the story focused on faith in Christ. Even for a “good” man like Drew, the main hero of the first story who appears in this one too, there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ, no matter what good works he's trying to do. Along with there, there are things concerning abortion and sexuality that are biblically sound.
 
The author does engage in the kind of ego-boosting us-center rhetoric that is all too common today. “God sees the potential in all of us...”, he writes in the Reader's Guide. But biblically, we know that “none are righteous” and “all our works of righteousness are as filthy rags”.
 
If there is one thing that honked me off a little theologically, it's when he tries to throw in the need to “hear God's whispers”. Even the angels in this story have to try to hear them, for some reason. I realize this is a popular teaching, but I've yet to come on anyone who can truly show me where the Bible tells us that God speaks to us via a quiet inner voice. And this author doesn't give any biblical support for the notion, either.
 
Conclusion—It's an interesting read. I wish I could be a little more enthusiastic in my support for it, but I simply can't ignore some of the things the story teaches that are a bit off, like the God-whispers stuff. But there is enough good that I'd give a recommendation.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

En Passant available for free

En Passant

This book is available for free for a few days, for Kindle readers.

book review--Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson

say hello to the new legalism

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

I suppose a lot of people are familiar with the old legalism, the “Christians don't drink or chew, and don't hang out with folks who do” type. This kind of legalism was grim and dour, looking askance upon fun and entertainment. Rock music was evil, movies were evil, dancing was evil, TV was the devil's tool box, and so on.

The new legalism is different. It comes with a smile, offering all kinds of good things. The god of the new legalism isn't looking to strike you down if you slip up; rather, he's just eager and waiting to drop all kinds of blessings on you if you'll just get your act together. That's the god of Divine Applause.

The god that Anderson writes about in this book is a god whose attention you have to get, and Anderson tells you how. If you give money, God notices. If you fast, God starts paying attention. If you pray, God's ears perk up.

But though the new legalism wears a very different face from the old one, it is still legalism. How much should you give? Well, maybe tithing isn't enough for you to get God's attention. “Honest study suggests there is no biblical giving measurement that applies to everyone. In fact, it's possible that your 10 percent, or even beyond, may not please God...We learn from Jesus's applause of the generous widow at the Temple that God measures our gifts according to how much our gift costs us. He measures it according to our unique sacrifice.” So, how do you know if you giving is pleasing to God? “If your decision to give 5 percent of you income (or 1 percent or even one dollar) causes your heart to beat faster and your hands to sweat, then that healthy tension can make your gift matter both to you and to God.” Of course, he doesn't show where racing hearts and sweating palms are taught in the Bible as a basis for giving.

Much of the rest of the book is along those same lines, basically him taking a few biblical passages and making stuff up about them, trying to read between the lines, so to speak. Gideon had only a few hundred people to fight with because he asked God a few times to verify what He'd said to him? That's not taught in the Bible. All the backstory about Abraham's unnamed servant sent to find a wife for Isaac? None of that is in the Bible. This author is far more interested in his own vain imaginations then in teaching sound bibilical theology

“When even good, holy, and proper things become confused with the gospel, it is only a matter of time before we end up with Christless Christianity: a story about us instead of a story about the Triune God that sweeps us into the unfolding drama.” Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 109). Anderson tries to deal with good, holy, and proper things—giving is good, prayer is good, fasting is good. But he does so in a way that makes the story about me. “What did Jesus mean when He told the adulterous woman to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11 KJV). He must have believed in something greater for her life. And when He preached to the crowds, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), He had something greater in mind for them too.”

But the adulterous woman could no more keep from sinning than she could keep from breathing, perhaps even less so. The people who heard Jesus say that weren't suppose to think that they could be perfect by their own efforts—many of them were already trying to do that by their own efforts, by keeping the law, by living in legalism. The law isn't meant to inspire us to a form of bootstrap theology, but to help us see how sinful our sins are.

Romans 3“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over  n former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” One of the big things the law is suppose to do is show us how much we need the Gospel of Christ dying for our sins, to show us how lost we are without Christ's sacrifice.

In the end, this book is simply another in a sad and sadly growing collection of ego-boosting works of me-centered theology. God is there to make my life an adventure, give meaning to my life, make me a superstar, but I have do everything right so that God can do that for me. God is relegated to being a supporting player in the grand and glorious story of me. Few things could be less Christian.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

book available for free for a few days

More to the Story is available on Kindle for free for a few days.

It's a short work, basically three brief writings centered around some scriptural passages. They aren't meant to be satirical or sardonic, though a few sacred cows may be singed a little bit in them.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

the falsest of dichotomies

Every now and again, I'll read something that at least seems to hint at some kind of divide between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament.

To my experience, it's rarely plainly stated in such terms. The language is usually more weaselly. It might, for example, involve statement about how Jesus is the true revelation of God, and how we have to interpret the Bible, especially the Old Testament, through Jesus.

Of course, that does make sense. But then, the Jesus they try to set up turns out to be not much like the Jesus found in the New Testament.

For example, I've come on a few who try to question the existence of Hell using such an argument. Apparent, the fact the Jesus spoke of Hell as a very real place doesn't factor into their interpretations.

This kind of thing is often used by those who are theologically liberal.

For example, they will attempt to put a kind of separation between the God of the Old Testament, who often told people to go to war and told Israel to conquer to the Promised Land, and Jesus in the New Testament, who told people to love their enemies, bless those who curse you, and so on. They try to portray Jesus as being in favor of their pet forms of nonviolent resistance.

But the truth is this--Jesus never disapproved of anything the Father said or did in the Old Testament, and the Father never disapproved of anything the Son said or did in the New Testament. As Jesus Himself plainly stated, "I an the Father are One", and "Before Abraham was, I am". To put it another way, the God who told Yeshua (Joshua) to cross the Jordon and conquer the Promised Land is the same Yeshua (Jesus) who told us to love our enemies. There are not cross-purposes, there is no split between the two, there is not disagreement in the Godhead. Jesus did not attempts some kind Occupy Heaven stunt.

The same Jesus who spoke about loving enemies also told his disciples to sell a cloak to buy a sword. The same Jesus who spoke about loving enemies was the one who called His enemies hypocrites, blind guides, and said their father was the devil. Start getting your mind around these apparent (though not real) contradictions before trying to make the Godhead a family squabble.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

book review—Heartless by Anne Elizabeth Stengl

large as life fairy tale

Fracturing fairy tales has become common in modern-day story telling. It seems like TV shows and movie where spins and twists are put on fairy tale and folklore stories are pretty frequently put out. Of course, one gets a steady diet of that from Disney, but they are far from the only practitioners.

“Heartless” is, in many ways, another modern take on fairy tales, but one that is different from some of the others I've come on, and one that I like rather a lot.

A lot of the expected elements are in it. There are princes and princesses, strange places where strange things can happen, dragons and warriors, heroes and villains. There is love and loss, heroism and cowardice, selfishness and sacrifice.

But maybe the big difference between this fairy tale and the classic kind, a difference that I think may make “Heartless” more suited to a more grown-up reader than the kiddie version of fairy tales popular nowadays, is that most of the people in it are not larger than life. With a couple of exceptions, they are not paragons of virtue, nor are they dripping in evil and villainy.

Una is not the stereotypical fairy tale princess, Felix is not prince charming, and Leo is not a knight in shining armor. They are, in a sense, only as large as life. They act like how we act, they do the things we do, they act selfishly and rashly, they make shallow decisions, and they hurt those around them in profound ways. They aren't the stereotypical sympathetic characters, they are in fact rather frustrating. Just like we are.

One of the biggest parallels I saw between this story and Christianity is this—Una is loved by the fairy prince even when she treats him badly and as an enemy. This was a reminder to me of how “God showed us His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Overall, this is a work of creative and imagination, as well as well thought out and fairly sound in it's allegorical representations of Christianity. I can recommend it very strongly.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

book review--Valor's Worth

good

Since I gave a review to the first book in this series (not counting the prequel) that was kind of middling, it seemed fair to give a review of this book. A lot of things I groused about in the earlier book are fixed here, and the result is full-bodied, satisfying fantasy novel, well worth the read.

Rather then feeling hurried, I was able to enjoy the story developing, the characters being fleshed out, the little conflicts that lead up to the final conflict. Along with original character, new ones (or in one case one that was briefly mentioned in the previous book) are brought in and fit in, and it's all a fairly cohesive whole.

So, consider this a recommendation.

the truth behind and beyond dystopia

A few years ago, I spent a lot of time driving. To help with that, I would get some audio books from a library. I got to listen to audio book versions of the Dune novels, along with several of Asimov's Foundation books. More recently, I've taken an interest in the Warhammer 40K books, reading several of them.

Those are a few examples of dystopian stories. Yes, I think even Foundation was dystopian, even though I doubt that was Asimov's intention. Outside of not finding the appeal of those stories, not to mention the arrogance of the ideas behind the Foundation, there was simply the extreme cyclical view of history, such that the fall and rise of the space empire has to follow a certain pattern based on one man's researches and conjectures, and that everything must to done to insure that this pattern is not interrupted in any way. That's pretty dystopian, in my mind.

Dystopian fiction has been fairly popular. I suppose my first exposure to it was the old movie Logan's Run, though my interest at that young age had more to do with robots and lasers than in a deep and dark future world. But whether it's a dark future of the Alien movies, or a dark present or near future in which zombies rule the world, it's all dystopian.

So, what does it all mean?

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.” Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy (p. 7). Kindle Edition. While I suppose there might be dispute over whether original sin and the Fall are the only part that can really be proven, I think it's fairly clear that original sin and the Fall are as evident as Chesterton points out. We don't have to look far to see it, we don't even have to look in the streets. We need only look in a mirror.

This fact is all around us, and in us. And I'd say that it's in dystopian fiction (and utopian, too), whether or not that's the intent of the authors of those books.

We know that technological progress has not equated into progress as people. The fictional cave man with a club may have been able to only knock a few people over the head with his club, but the far too real modern terrorist can do so much more damage with a machine gun or vest bomb, and we can only imagine with dread what such a person might do with nuclear or biological weapons. We develop technologies for spreading moving images, and we use them to show off and celebrate our debaucheries and perversions.

What do I think is the truth behind these dystopian stories? Simply that we know that, left to ourselves, we cannot create utopia. Our attempts at utopia will not pan out, but will turn on us, and become something closer to a nightmare than anything we might dream of. We will be no less xenophobic in the 40,000s than we were in the 1940s. Our rulers will be just as despotic in the far future, as they have been in our far and near past. The best laid plans of mice and men will turn into well laid traps for mice and men.

Because, in the end, we know we are hopeless. We cannot change our own selves, let alone anyone else. We cannot make our own selves better, let alone anyone else. We are not improving as a race.

We know the truth of original sin. We cannot help ourselves, save ourselves, make ourselves clean.

If that was where the story ended, then let us rush blindly into the night, or rage against the coming of the night, both would be equally hopeless gestures.

But the truth is, that's not where the story ends. There is truth in that story, but if we stop with just that story, we will be left with hopelessness.

“But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Mankind is not the hero of mankind's story, and when we try to be, we can't find anything but dystopia. But where our works of righteous are no better than the vilest of rags, Christ's sacrificial death for our sins has made us clean. Where our sins are like a mountain, Christ's death has won forgiveness for us. Where our technology and intelligence and creativity have made our futures only more precarious, Christ's death has given those who believe in Him a real future.

There is truth in dystopia, but there is a greater truth beyond dystopia. Where we by our own efforts would only create hell on earth, Christ has promised us new heavens and a new earth.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

shifters: manipulations available for free

Shifters: Manipulations

My story is available at Amazon for free for a few days, and you may consider this an invite to take a look at it, and let me know what you think.

Thanks, and I do hope you enjoy it.

Note: The free offer has now expired. To those who got a copy of the book, thanks, and again, I hope you enjoy it.

book review—Divine Summons by Rebecca P Minor

a bit disappointing

Things I liked:

The author does well at creating characters. Vinyanel, Veranna, and Majestrin are interesting characters, and the way they grate at each other and look after each other throughout the story is different than what is typical in these kinds of stories.

Things I didn't like:

The story felt rushed, and things happened that could have been better explained. For example, we learn early on that elves and dragons don't like each other, such that the dragon Majestrin does not at first accompany Vinyanel into the elven lands, but without any explanation the next time Vinyanel meets Majestrin is somewhere in elven lands, and little is made of it.

The way perspective was done was bothersome, too. Much of the book is from Vinyanel's first-person view, where Vinyanel is essentially telling the story, but there are times when the perspective changes characters, and then it goes to third-person.

And I was uncomfortable with how divine power is shown and used by the characters. For example, at one point Veranna says to Vinyanel "If there are to be any Miracles channeled on this mission, Young Windrider, they shall come through you." The idea of miracles being channeled through someone seems to be a pretty big departure from how God performed miracles in the Bible, and at least seems something more like how The Force is used in Star Wars. But God is not like The Force at all.

One part particularly irked me. Vinyanel finally has enough of Veranna's cryptic words and interferences, and tells her so. She's earned it, she's been a pain to him throughout the story, and his rebuke of her is sound, but for some reason he's treated like the one who did something wrong. I hardly see why Veranna, who's shown no small amount of pride at her position as some kind of prophetess, should not be subject to a well-earned rebuke when she needs it.

Conclusion:

I recently read Beyond Price: a short story (The Windrider Canticles Book 1), a kind of prequel novella for this story, and thought it was pretty good, so I came to this story with some high expectations. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. To repeat something I wrote earlier in the review, the story felt rushed, almost as if there were some need to jump from one action scene to another without much info about life in between. I would have liked, for example, to see how Vinyanel honored and mourned for his comrades who died in the first part of the book, an escape from some enemies. I might even have liked to know more about why they were doing what they were doing at that time, and why it went bad and so many lost their lives. I would have liked to know more about what Veranna was trying to teach Vinyanel. I would have liked to see more of the normal lives of these characters. I would have liked to see more of Veranna's difficulties as a half-elf in an elven city, which are touched on once but only very briefly. After "Beyond Price", I would have liked to see how Veranna became the prophetess she is in this story, what her training was, and how she was even accepted, given her mixed heritage.

It's not an awful book, there was certainly enough to keep my interest as a reader, but I guess I was still hoping for more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

book review—Spark by J.B. North

fairly good

Things I liked:

The overall story held together pretty well, I didn't notice any big discrepancies or contradictions. The idea of people changing forms into either real or mythical animals was an interesting one, and handled pretty well. The fantasy world was well-imagined. Ivy was a good protagonist, fairly sympathetic but also not so perfect as to be unbelievable. A lot happens, there are a few twists and turns, and overall the story kept my interest.

Things I didn't like:

The book could have used a more thorough editing and proofreading. There were some things that could have been better explained, such as the places the students went to in the tents—were they real places, places in their minds? That might better explain why Ivy succeeded at firing a bow on her first attempt at it in one of those worlds, while struggling to learn to do so in real life. The God talk was handled clumsily, we get little hint of anything religious in Ivy's life yet she ends up praying to some Lord at a couple of points late in the book.

Conclusion:

I pretty well enjoyed this book. There are lots of good things here, but a few problems, too. Perhaps some things will be explained in later books of the series. I wait expectantly for the next book.

Friday, November 7, 2014

my newest foray into literature

A couple of years ago, I put toe into the literary world, kinda, sorta, in a really small sense. Today, I go in a bit more deeply

Shifters Book 1: Manipulations

I don't want to say too much about it at the moment, don't want to spoil anything :-). But I guess I'm a bit giddy over finally having this one up and available. Though I may not be the best judge of my own kinds of works like this, I think this one is pretty substantive, kinda funny in spots, very intense in others, and overall pretty good.

So, check out the page, and maybe read a copy of it. Any feedback, whether you think it's good or if you think it's not so good, would be welcomed.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

book review—The Global War on Christians by John L Allen Jr

Sobering

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

This isn't a book one necessarily enjoys. What the author writes about is sobering, disturbing, yet important. Though many US churchgoers might say that they know that there are places in the world where Christians suffer persecution, it is kept at a psychological distance, something “over there”. It isn't something believers in the US have much experience with.

But there may also be another reason why these accounts of suffering for Christ are kept at a distance. Where do accounts of people losing everything they have, even their own lives, fit into a religion whose biggest concern is having your best life now? In a theology that tries to spin the Christian life into one of constant adventure and fulfillment, do accounts of persecution promise too much adventure, or the wrong kind of adventure? What do accounts of people being social outcasts because of their Christian faith do to the popular teaching that God wants to help you to fulfill your dreams, land your dream job, have a great sex life?

It would be good for those whose regular diet of Christian reading is a steady feasting on the feel-good, shallow, it's all about me types of book so popular nowadays to read a book like this one, to provide a kind of balance to what they have been reading, and to get a glimpse of the cost many people pay for their faith.

Though I think this is a good book, I cannot completely agree with the author on everything.

Some of what he wrote about an “ecumenism of the martyrs” seemed off to me. Are we suppose to think that beliefs and creeds are unimportant, simply because people of various beliefs and even different religions have suffered persecutions? Though I appreciate that the author makes references to those persecutions from many different Christian faiths, are we suppose to pretend that the Reformation didn't happen because Catholic and non-Catholic believers suffer persecutions?

While I would agree that no one should be persecuted because of their religious beliefs, that is a far thing from necessarily endorsing anyone's religious beliefs, and I must kick against the notion that an ecumenical endorsement is necessary. The author mentions Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor whose imprisonment has become a cause celebre in many church circles. I would agree that Pastor Youcef should not be in prison simply because of his religious beliefs, and that Iran is wrong to imprison him for his religious beliefs. But the book also notes that Pastor Youcef has a Oneness view of God, and rejects the biblical teaching on the Trinity. Is it possible to support Pastor Youcef's freedom from unjust imprisonment, yet still say that his beliefs are aberrant or even heretical?

So, while I would recommend this book, and pretty strongly too, understand that my recommendation is not an endorsement for everything the author suggests.

Friday, October 31, 2014

worship of uncertainty

It would be fair to make a cautionary statement here--I think there is a tendency to proclaim certainty about things that are less-than-fully-supported biblically. In my last few years of school, I attended a school affiliated with a "Fundamental, Independent, KJV-only" type of church. They were very certain about many things--women should not wear pants (trousers, to you in the UK), rock music in any form is evil, going to the cinema to see movies is evil (though maybe watching videos was ok--this was a few years before DVDs). Christians don't drink, smoke, or chew, and don't hang out with those who do (unless one is witnessing to them, which wouldn't technically be hanging out).

In truth, many of their prohibitions had little biblical support. They would say that rock music is the world's music, rooted in rebellion. Some would say that the beat of rock music is too heavy, that the heavy rhythm is carnal and sensual. The problem is, these are arbitrary categories--where does the Bible say anything about any kind of "world's music"? Where does the Bible prohibit music with a heavy rhythm? The Bible does prohibit a man to wear feminine things and vice-versa, but what does that mean? In the times of the New Testament, the normal clothing of men and women were very similar. Why are pants or trousers strictly men's clothing? What about in colder climates, where women wear trouser-like pieces of clothing? What about cultures where women's clothing may include something similar to trousers? On the other hand, should men not wear kilts, because they are too much like skirts?

I could go on, I suppose, but maybe I've made my point--we need to be careful of forbidding things about which the Bible does not explicitly forbid.

Saying that, while acknowledging that grace may be wise in some things where clear commands and limits are not given, the worship of uncertainty as many postmoderns practice is like being eaten by the dragon while avoiding the whirlpool. The Bible makes many things very plain, and these things are not up for dispute. In the Ten Commandments, things like theft and murder and lying and adultery are shown to be wrong. Worshiping other gods is wrong. Any sexual act between anyone other than a man and woman married to each other is called sin.

We did not make the rules, we were not given the power to veto or remake the rules, and we violate the rules at our own peril. And finally, if we go up against the One who made the rules, we may be sure only of certain defeat and punishment.

There is room for flexibility in many things, but there are things hard and fast, things about which there cannot be compromise. To say that we must doubt those things, doubt that God has forbidden us to do those things, is to echo the words of the serpent, “Did God really say?”

En Passant: a work of not-so-popular theology (Kindle Locations 477-496).

Monday, October 13, 2014

well, there goes hope

Right when one might have had hope concerning this coming election, the Evangelical purveyors of superstitious hyper-spiritual practices have gone and ripped it from us.

Intercessors Set up 'David's Tent' For 24/7 Worship Outside White House

I remember they did this last year, before the presidential election. Yeah, how'd that work out, folks?

One of the sure signs that these NAR types are false prophets and teachers can be found simply in this, that when they prophecy and proclaim something, the opposite happens. I remember Lou Engle writing this,  "Standing on that basketball court, with the U.S. Supreme court beneath the feet of Jesus and my feet, I declared, "From this day forward there will only be pro-life judges." Well, that didn't happen.

And now, there's this kind of stuff, again. These 24-7 kinds of places have become very popular in some circles, such the IHOP and YWAM crowds, not to mention the group that calls themselves 24-7 Prayer. And it's all hyper-spiritual busywork, all based on a superstitious view that if they do this, God will do something.

Hog and wash.

"David's Tent" is some kind of big cause celebre among these NAR Dominionists. They think there 24-7 music fests will have something to do with making "David's Tent" a reality, even though that's not what the Bible teaches.

Anyway, having any kind of hope in the current political situation is rather a difficult thing even on the best of days, but knowing that thus bunch is out there doing their schtick of false praise and worship just took hope right out the room. Please, folks, just stop, you've already done quite enough damage.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

book review—Dark Biology by Bonnie Doran

not awful, not great

I want to deal with this book in two aspects—the story, and the theology.

The story: It turned out to be more of a romance than a suspense or thriller type of book. While some things written about the International Space Station were interesting, the focus was usually put on the romance triangle, and it was just kinda so-so. Hildi was an ok character, though I thought she treated Dan rather badly. And why Dan still wanted to be with her after, for example, leaving him stranded on a beach, I don't understand. And for Frank, he got to play the role of the guy who kept messing things up and making bad situations even worse.

The parallel story of Hildi's parents, and the people around them, could have had a bit more punch. There was certainly enough material with them to make up its own book, but while it has some moving moments, it never really gets to much depth.

Chet was the most interesting character, but also in some ways the most iffy. Would it really be that easy for a disgruntled CDC employee to get into an infectious disease lab, hid a vial, and get out? Especially on the spur of the moment? And the book said the he checked the vial's label to make sure that it wasn't anything seriously bad, the book called it H1N2, but he later sees the label again and sees that it actually is a serious bug, something called H4N6. This mistake, though, is not explained, especially since he made sure to check the vial when he selected it as the one to sneak out.

Theology: For a story riddled with ministers, prayer, and other things Christian, it seemed like the Gospel itself was like the proverbial bush that people beat all around, but never quite get into. Let me give an example.

One character, Hildi's father, who has just learned that he is about to die, says, “I've done these seminars to atone for my sins.” While the friend comforting him starts out by saying “Do you believe Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient for everything you've done, past, present, and future?”, his words then turn into some kind of a motivational speech about all the good the guy had done, with the last thought from that minister in this section of the book was “Maybe his life had counted after all”.

This was an excellent place for the Gospel to be told to this man who was having some doubts so close to death, and while something like a “Gospel nugget” (HT Fighting for the Faith) was given, the man was quickly pushed past that to look at his own works. I doubt the author meant it this way, but that does come off as something like work-righteousness, especially just after the man had said that he was trying to do good works to atone for his sins. But out good works do not save us, our works of righteousness are no better than filthy rags, and we sure can't use them to atone for our sins. The righteousness God gives us through Christ is not earned by works of the law, but is given through faith in Jesus Christ. That is mentioned, true, but I wish it had been dwelt on more, instead of jumping to the “You've changed the world” type of motivational jargon.

This is the kind of book that might have benefited from being longer, so that things could have been explained better and the overall story would not have felt so hurried. As it is, it's only a so-so book to me, something that I neither liked overly much, nor disliked.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

a bit of kibitzing

I haven't done anything like this for a while, and I'm actually anticipating it a little. So, onward and upward!

Weeping Jeremiahs” is a blog that's been brought to my attention, for good or ill, mostly ill. I don't know anything about whomever write it, or even if “Jeremiahs” is telling us there's more than one person contributing bad poetry to the site. Anyway, this one example is certainly interesting.
The Values of the Lamb
Ah, the language of values. Not morals, not ethics, but values. But, let's be glad that this person knows so much about what Jesus values, right?
“I do not share your values, America:
Well, all right-y, then. Let's give Weepy Jerry credit for coming on strong, bringing the heat.

Now, first, let's note a few things. First, tie this in with the title of this poem, The Values of the Lamb, and note that this person puts these words in quotes, and writes in the first person, I. In other words, Weepy Jerry is claiming that Jesus is the one saying these words.

Wow, that's quite the claim. Take a look at this passage. “Deuteronomy 18: 18– 20: 18 “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 “But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.””

First, HT to Michael Beasley and his book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, an excellent resource for the biblical view of prophecy, such as the verses above, which were in his book.

So, claiming to be speaking for God is not a trite thing. Saying “Thus sayeth the Lord”, even if one doesn't use that phrase, was a matter of life or death in the Old Testament. True, we may be glad that in this New Covenant we wouldn't kill a false prophet, but we shouldn't pretend that false prophecy is not a serious issue. And in claiming that the words of this poem are the words of Jesus, Weepy Jerry is putting him/her/themselves in the place of a prophet.

So, noting that, let's go on.
I value love more
than I value independence
Well, that's interesting. Are love and independence mutually exclusive? Are they bitter enemies, such that we cannot have one if we have the other? Personally, I don't see the conflict, and more than that, I think there are many ways in which love and independence go hand in hand. Even if we look at things on a national level, which country sounds more loving—the independence people have in the US, or the micro-control people suffer in North Korea? I think I'll take the independence we have in the US, thanks.
I value charity more
than I value profit.
So, when did charity and profit become mutually exclusive? You know, you work day in and day out, and when payday comes you get the wages you've worked for, and what is wrong with that? How that is anti-charity? In fact, how are any of us suppose to do much of anything charitable without earning anything?

Is work wrong? Is it wrong to want to earn the money you need to pay your bills, get groceries, and maybe afford a few extras? I guess we can assume that Weepy Jerry has at least one computer, or all the Weepy Jerries have their own computers, so it seems like they have some means. How were they able to afford to get computers? And wireless access? And a home?

Charitable giving is fine and dandy, if it is done wisely. I'm quite fine with charity, but I don't see how charity is suppose to be opposed to making a profit.

I value the native people
you uprooted and oppressed.
Ah, now it's cheap guilt trip time. Yeah, America, you ain't been perfect.

True, God does love native people, whatever that might mean, wherever that might be. He also loves the people that replaced them, and the people who replaced those people. After all, how many square inches of this world can really be said to be in the ownership of whatever people first claimed them?

I assume that at least one of the Weepy Jerries is white, because this person obviously relishes wallowing in his/her white guilt. As a white man myself, I think I'll pass. I know very well that the US has a lot of really ugly things in our past, something true of any nation, something true even of those native people.

How do I know that? Simple. Those native people were like us—fallen, sinful, corrupt, and even their attempts at works of righteousness were no better than filthy rags. They were just like me, because I was and am like that. I am a sinner, I am still fallen, even as I am forgiven and made clean in Christ. I think it is the Lutherans, and maybe the Reformed, who have a saying that we Christians are simultaneously just and sinner.

So, yes, God loves native people, God loves those who took their place, God loves all peoples. And He showed that love in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

I value your enemies
as much as I value you
No problem there, but what is this person really saying? I think this next verse may show this person's hand.
I value peacemaking
and nonviolence
Yep, typical leftie cowardice and self-righteousness, right there on full display.

Notice the lack of a contrast here—no “I value X over Y”, but “I value X and Y”. As you might expect, I think this is a bit of an either-or, more so than this person's other attempts at contrasts.

For example, why does peacemaking equal nonviolence? I've had some exposure to leftie rhetoric about these things, and, frankly, it's full of contradictions.

Maybe one would think about Jesus' words in what we call The Sermon on the Mount, where He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”. All well and good, but does that mean pacifists? Does that mean nonviolence? I think that could be debated. First, by much of the Old Testament, where God often tells His people to go to war, and even seems to indicate that King David got into moral trouble with Bathsheba because he was not at war at a time when kings went to war. Warrior images are also often used for God. And there is no contrast between God the Father and Jesus. One isn't the thunder-god who just wants to do a lot of smiting while the other is the meek and quiet one who's pulled off an Occupy Heaven type of takeover. No, there is no conflict between the Father and the Son. Jesus completely approved of everything in the Old Testament, and the Father completely approved of everything Jesus said and did.

To put it another way, the same God who told Yeshua to lead the people of Israel into a conquest of The Promised Land is the same Yeshua who said that peacemakers are blessed, and He will be the same Yeshua who will return as a king and a conqueror, as Revelation tells us as do other prophet passages.

Proverbs, an Old Testament book, often speaks against violent people. Of course, these violent people were not like King David, or Joshua, or Moses, or Gideon, or any of David's mighty men. Rather, these violent men were murderers, bandits, robbers, ambushers, people who shed the blood of the innocent.

In a human sense, the policeman who stops a murderer or a robber is a peacemaker, even if he uses his weapon and even does so lethally. A soldier fight his country's enemies is a peacemaker. Of course, there are complications—it could be seriously questioned how much of a peacemaker a soldier in Nazi Germany was, and an ISIS terrorist is obviously not a peacemaker at all. Hamas terrorists lobbying thousands of mortars and rockets into Israel are not peacemakers, no matter how much they try to disguise themselves in false concern for the Palestinian people. And there are corrupt police officers, sadly. But by and large, police officers and soldiers do far more peacemaking than leftist radical activists.

I value freedom from sin more
than I value political freedom

Oh, my, how hyper-spiritual. I guess that might work as a cover for leftist attempts to curtail political freedom.

I value your salvation more
than I value your nation.
Ok, so, who is this person now talking to? I thought this person was address the US as a whole, but now it's changed somewhat.

And, again, it's hyper-spiritual. It's a common ploy among those on the left, and sadly even those on the right.
Do not confuse your values with Mine!”
Oh, and now we have “Mine” capitalized, another sign that Weepy Jerry is claiming that these words are form Jesus. So, are we suppose to put this little poem into the Bible? Maybe make it part of the Psalms, or at least a New Testament version of the Psalms?

Sorry, I can't do that.

One wonders if Weepy Jerry is actually taking his or her or their own advise? After all, they are claiming that their own values are the values of Jesus, but are they not then confusing their values for His? I think this little poem shows that they are, and pretty badly, too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Behold!

"But the law is not the end of it. It is, rather, to prepare us for something else. We need the law, we need it to break us, to smash our pride, to show us how helpless we are, so that we can be ready to receive the message of The Gospel."

What is this message? That Christ, the Son of God, born of a virgin, lived the sinless life that we cannot live. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, was crucified for our sins, the sacrifice for our atonement and redemption, as this passage said. He rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. And now we, through repentance for our sins and faith in Christ, may be made clean of our sins and receive eternal life."

Behold this man! Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! As it it written, God has shown us his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, so that we can have this righteousness spoken of in this passage.

Rigor

Monday, September 22, 2014

book review—Be The Message by Kerry and Chris Shook

wrong message

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Although one can find an occasional good bit of stuff in this book, overall it goes off the rails right off the bat, and probably no where more so than in it's basic premise. At one point, for example, they write “Jesus is the Word. The message—the gospel—is the person of Jesus”. Fair enough. They even make the very good point about the Bible, that “It's His (Jesus') story from beginning to end”. If they had stayed on that point, going more into that, this book would have been so much better.

Sadly, they don't. Using some convoluted illogic, they write this: “Jesus is the Word. The Word is the Gospel. Christ, the Word, lives in you, Translation. You are the gospel...Friend, you are I are the gospel.” Sorry, but that is not true, it is not what the Bible teaches. We are witnesses, messengers, ministers, but we are not the message, and to make the messenger the message is to change the message.

The Gospel is Christ crucified for our sins, not anything we do. It would be one thing if the authors were to encourage us to good works, that's would be very good. But it's wrong to try to say that our attempts at good works are the Gospel, because they aren't.

But when one buys into this “My life is the gospel” stuff, one inevitable result is the need to keep up the performance, to do more and more, such that everyday things become denigrated. “Like you, little of what we do is just about us. It's about our families, our friends, our church. But with all of that, we are still strapped for time...But here's the problem when have no time and we have no margin in life, we will generally choose not to get involved in things God is calling us to do...Our life message will be set aside, and we'll hop in the car to pick up more groceries.” Huh? So, being taking care of one's family and friends and church is not something God is calling us to do? Getting groceries is such a measly thing that God has nothing to do with it?

Reading things like that in books like this, one could wonder why, when Paul wrote to believers on they were to act, he tells them to do rather mundane things—husbands are to love their wives, wives are to submit to their husbands, children are to obey their parents, fathers are to not provoke their children to anger, believers are to live quietly and to do their work.

But when “My life if the gospel”, then such mundane things are not enough. One has to listen for “divine whispers”, which the Bible says nothing about. One has to be concerned about “making a difference”, whatever that means. “Doing something new, something outside of your personal space, is a key step in being the message...It means putting yourself out there in your local community so that your life message can be seen.” In other words, putting yourself on display, being an advertisement, making people see what a good person you are so that they can see how your life is the gospel. To sum it up in one word, Performance.

In “Christless Christianity”, Michael Horton writes something that seems very pointed, in light of the Shooks' book. “But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own "changed lives" in the promotional materials. Maybe non-Christians would have less relish in pointing out our failures if we testified in word and deed to our need and God's gift for sinners like us. If we identified the visibility of the church with the scene of sinners gathered by grace to confess their sins and their faith in Christ, receiving him with open hands, instead of with our busy efforts to be the gospel, we would at least beat non-Christian critics to the punch.” (pp. 118-119).

In short, “Be The Message” is wrong from the get-go. We are not the message, and we should be glad of that. Christ and His sacrifice for our sins is the message, the Gospel. However important our good works may be, they are not the gospel.

helpless

If, as a child, you lied or stole, you violated the law. If you disobeyed your parents, you violated the law. If you were selfish and greedy for something another child had, you violated the law. What works would be enough to make up for such violations? Where has God given a formula that says what things you must do to blot out those sins from your record? Even if you sacrifice a vast herd of cattle and flock of sheep, can doing that make you clean?

This must be understood--all works we consider righteous are nothing more than the vilest of rags. Our best efforts literally stink to high Heaven. We are all guilty, and we cannot make ourselves innocent, we cannot make ourselves clean But where we cannot help ourselves, God has already helped us. God has sent His Son, Christ has sacrificed Himself for our sins. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we can find forgiveness of sins. Salvation is an act of grace from God, not a wage we can earn from Him.
En Passant

Thursday, September 18, 2014

unworthy servants

If we can see that we are really worthless servants, that our attempts at righteousness are no better than the vilest of rags, that none of us do good, yet God still loves us, still cares for us, still sent Jesus to die for us, still provides a way of salvation for us, even still provides for all our needs, then we can stop our useless striving to impress Him with our works, and by faith simply believe. It is then that we can see how great the Father's love is for us, not because we can manipulate Him as children can manipulate their human fathers, but because we can't, yet He loves us anyway, and cares for those that are His. We can stop trying to bargain with him, and instead be grateful to Him for the blessings He has given us. We can ask Him to bless us, and know that if He in His wisdom considers it good, He will do so, and if He does not bless us in the way we would like, then We can trust His goodness and wisdom, that He knows what is best for us.


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