Friday, August 29, 2014

the joy of the killjoys

I'm not the biggest social media follower, but yes I do spend a bit of time on it. It's interesting, in its own ways.

Anyway, as most people who frequent social media to any degree that the word “frequent” might be used, one of the latest rages is the Ice Bucket Challenge, which seems to consist of people having buckets or tubs or any other kind of container filled with water onto them, which somehow is suppose to involved charitable giving to an certain organization doing research involving a certain disease.

Ok, so, all well can good. I'm all for trying to find cures for diseases, in this case ALS or, as it's more popularly called, Lou Gehrig Disease. It's an ugly disease, very debilitating. It would be good if it were cured.

But, yes, the Ice Bucket Challenge itself is rapidly reaching the point of annoyance. Not to fear, it'll soon exhaust it's 15 days of fame, and then something else will take its place.

Now, legitimate criticism can be leveled against this challenge. Perhaps the most legitimate one is that the organization that is the focal point of the charitable giving regarding this gag is one that engages in or encourages embryonic stem cell research. To put it bluntly, they say it's ok to kill George and use his remains in order to find a cure for Geoff. Of course, it's quite all right for people to want to find a cure for Geoff, but many of us do think that it is going too far to insist that George's life should be sacrificed in order to find that cure.

This is a real concern in regards to the challenge and the charity. Sadly, this kind of thing also attracts another kind of persons. I will call them “killjoys”.

Here is an example of what they do. There an image I've seen on social media over the past few days. I can't remember the specific info on it, but it went something like this, “Only a thousand or so people die every year from ALS, but ten times that many, or more, die each year from lack of water”. Another image I've seen shows one picture of a group of people getting water dumped on them, with a message under it something like “in America”, while right below this a picture of a child, I could guess an African child, getting sip of water from some kind of small container, and under that photo a message which went something like “Other places in the world”.

I consider these kinds of images to be “cheap guilt trips”. It's not that their information may not be accurate, but that they are created in order to make people feel guilty for no good reason.

How to explain what I mean? Let's try this. Let's say that a person who posted these kinds of images was really serious about them. How would that person continue to act? Would that person not drink any more water each day as he or she would need to? Seems like a good idea for them. Would that person go down to the nearest public swimming pool, and demand they stop wasting water for the simple enjoyment of people going to the pool? Reasonable. Would that person try to organize protests at water parks? Would that person go into conniptions when he or she saw a bunch of five-year-olds in flimsy plastic pools? Would that person demand that people stop going to Niagara Falls, because that magnificent sight is actually little more than a waste of water?

We have reasons to doubt that they will act in such ways, because they are not truly serious about their protestations. Heck, I've not even noticed them even providing information on charitable works that could provide those people who need it with water, or help them dig for wells so they can have access to water. No, they seem content simply to try to make people feel guilty because they dumped a bucket of water on themselves or someone else.

They are, to put it simplest, killjoys. They are the wet blankets tossed on the campfire. They try to make the campers feel guilty, because somewhere in the world are people who are suffering from a lack of warmth. They may be correct, there likely are people who are suffering and even dying because they have no access to fire and warmth. That is a bad thing. But the campers roasting marshmallows at their own fire are not the reasons those others are suffering.

Like I tried to point out a few paragraphs ago, I think there are good reasons for not participating in this trend. But feeling guilty about dumping water on oneself is not one of them. Now, if you really are concerned about people not having access to water, good for you, that is a real and legitimate concern. Let me provide you with a way you can be of help to them, should you so choose.

Samaritan's Purse Water,Sanitation, and Hygiene

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

book review—The Future of Us by Julia Loren and others

moon pie prophets
 
I got a copy of this book when the publisher offered it for free.

The title of this review is taken from a gathering of prophets the author mentions at one point in the book, in what is called the Blue Moon Conference. She calls these people the Blue Moon Prophets, but I think a much more apt and accurate name for them would be the Moon Pie Prophets, and this book does an excellent job of showing why that name would be so fitting.

For example, the first chapter is some kind of an attempt to explain, or explain away, the horrendous inaccuracy rates of so many of these kinds of prophets. "Some of the people I know had predictive dreams or visions that were accurate. Others were not." (p. 18). True prophets of God do not have inaccurate dreams and visions. In fact, one of the signs the Bible gives that we can know that a prophet is not from God is that what they prophesy does not take place. "No matter how long we have walked with God, we can still be deceived by our own soul or deceived by the enemy. No one is immune." (p. 19). This statement alone should put paid to any notion that these people are real prophets of God. Would Elijah or Isaiah or any other real prophet have resorted to such a lame excuse?

"Later, Terry claims that Gabriel visited him again and gave him an actual date for the Vancouver to Seattle devastating quake. That date has passed without incident." (p. 22). Umm...assuming this guy was really visited by some kind of angel-like being, then we now know that it was not really Gabriel, because that angel's prophetic message didn't happen. That angelic being, assuming there really was such a vision, was obviously playing for the other side. "Many prophets also speak about a horribly destructive earthquake demolishing Los Angeles." (p. 25). Yeah, that's so common, it's almost a meme.

Then, there is the rather disturbing rhetoric showing that this author has caved to the climate change scare-tactics. "The Blue Moon Prophets may just be seeing what is ahead if we do not repent, turn from our dependence on fossil fuels and our self-focused materialism, and change our ways." (p. 36). "According to journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard, climate change and global warming are largely to blame for the increase and destructive potential in super storms around the world." (p. 36). It's pretty clear that a lot of the climate change data was skewed and cooked, and that "climate change" is a political tool. One that I guess this author is quite willing to use.

Once you realize that these prophetic words are about as solid as the marshmallow filling in a Moon Pie, you can pretty much put this book own, or read it for the entertainment value. You might find it amusing, for example, when Shawn Bolz claims God led him the false prophet Bob "I prophesied falsely hundreds of times" Jones. Sorry, but God didn't lead this man to a false prophet who was also guilty of sexual misconduct.

So, there you have it. These prophets are completely untrustworthy, their prediction are about as likely to be accurate as the nearest Tarot card dealer and palm reader. You'll know about as much about the future by gazing into a crystal ball as by gazing into this book. These false prophets are just like Moon Pies--flimsy, squishy, not very solid, may taste good to some people but offering little to no real nutritional value.

What works would I recommend? First, regarding these false prophets, I'd recommend Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur, as his book details the kinds of unbiblical things these kinds of false prophets say and teach, along with Christianity In Crisis: The 21st Century: The 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff. Concerning how serious and unbiblical this hit-or-miss attitude is concerning prophecy, I'd heartily recommend The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy" by Michael Beasley, an excellent book about this issue. All of these books are order of magnitude superior to the drivel in Loren's book.
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Monday, August 4, 2014

very compelling perspective



I think this is a very compelling video, by someone who has to live some of the day-to-day reality that people not very far away from her want her and her people dead. Highly recommended viewing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

book review—Heart Wide Open by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

scattershot

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

Maybe the best and worst thing I can say about this book is that it is very scattershot. There are some good things in it. “God put His love on eternal display by sending Jesus to save us, not because of our merit but in spite of our sin.” Very true, very well put, I could not agree more. But when she then goes on in the next sentence to say “He initiates the love affair with us”, pardon me for cringing. Love affair? The author does know, I would assume, what kinds of things such language refers to, and what kinds of imagery it may well bring up to readers? Is it really wise to speak of God's love for us in the language of illicit, extra-marital, sinful acts?

Two things about it seemed more than a little off to me. One was the emphasis the author constantly makes to experiences. “If I were to be honest, the faith I was experiencing wasn't satisfying my deepest longings at all.” What is that suppose to mean? Did Christ die to “satisfy my deepest longings”? My greatest concrete need was for the forgiveness of my sins, which is why Christ died.

All those times I heard Jesus say, “Come unto Me,” I thought He was inviting me to confirm my eternal destiny, when in reality I was hearing my Redeemer calling me to experience His presence.” Experience His presence? What does that mean? Liver-shivers? An emotional moment? Trying to hear some kind of inner voice? That kind of thinking can lead to some very dangerous places.

The other thing that seems off to me is, I would suspect, a result of the first. There are times when the author displays a very trite view of things. “He (Jesus) isn't just the door to heaven at the end of our journey on earth; He is the door to enjoying our journey on earth, to knowing God and living daily with Him.” “Far from being a party pooper, our Father wants to see us enjoy our lives and make merry.”

Reading things like that puts me in mind of what little I know of the various kinds of sufferings and persecutions Christians in many other nations suffer. One can read about some of those things at the Voice of the Martyrs website. For example, they say that there are 30,000 Christians in prisons in North Korea. There is an account on the website from early 2014, of 78 people killed in Pakistan when two suicide bombers attacked a church gathering. There is another account of a young Christian woman in Somalia who was drug from her house by armed men and killed.

Seen in the light of the kinds of things believers have suffered, both now and over the past 2,000 or so years, this message of “God wants you to enjoy life”, which is so very popular, comes off as being at best trite, and I'm trying hard to not view it as outright insulting.

It's possible to read this book and find some good stuff in it, I've certainly read much worse. But this is an extremely shallow and trite book, and there are things taught in it that have little to no connection to whatever biblical passage the author is referencing. Overall, it's simply another in a long, sad collection of “feel-good theology” that far too many people seem to want their eyes and ears tickled with. Despite some good moments in it, I simply cannot recommend it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

is there no shame?

So, yesterday, I'm cruising the internet, doing a bit of this of that, when a link over at Charisma Mag caught my eye. It was for something called Dominion Camp Meeting.

Now, if you've been coming here for a while, you may have seen that I will occasion voice an opinion about Dominionisms (I think they stink). So, with that being a bit of a source of curiosity to me, I clicked on the link.

Dominion Camp Meeting is something put on by Rod Parsley. The site is incredibly uninformative, containing mostly rah-rah rhetoric that kinda like cotton candy--all fluff and little substance. Still, the so-called Prayer Form page was most informative, in it's own way.

Prayer Form

Please understand, I don't link to this page to in any way encourage anyone to go there and give this charlatan money.

In the upper right corner of the page, there is a video of Parsley speaking to us viewers. It's not even really much about the camp meeting itself, though it does get some mention.

In the video, he claims...

God sent me with a divine mandate to get you dreaming again.


This kind of rhetoric is very common nowadays. Dreams are the current big selling point, claims that God wants to help you fulfill your dreams are the main message coming from far too many churches. It is, to put it blunt, one of the most popular false gospels being proclaimed today.

But Parsley's just getting started.

Proof of desire is in the pursuit. This is the time to act, this is the time to move, this is the time when we understand that our faith, to operate in faith, required a response.
Oh, a response? Well, what might that be?

Let me encourage you to take a step of faith toward God, toward your dream, your dream, by sowing a seed that God has already placed in your hand. 
And the last part of that statement is accompanied in the video by footage of someone filling out a check. Yeah, now you know what's going on. Why?

Because the realization of every dream begins with a simply step of faith and obedience toward God. 
Really? I guess people who don't believe in God don't get their dreams fulfilled, because they can't take steps of faith toward God?

Your seed is the only influence you have over tomorrow. Your tomorrow different than today, a seed is the mechanism of the deliverance.
So, don't worry about studying or getting job training or anything like that, those have no influence over tomorrow. No, only giving a lot of money to someone like Parsley will change your tomorrow. And, yes, it will change your tomorrow. It'll make you a lot broker.

So, right now, as an act of your personal faith toward God, I want to challenge you to sow a seed with a purposeful expression of the number 14, that God's opening the door to your dreams again. Maybe that seed's $30.14, $50.14, or $114, whatever it is, make sure that 14 is in there, it'll build your faith. 
I am so tempted to fill out the online giving form on that page for $.14, just to see if that would fit within his "whatever it is". I have my doubts that it would be considered acceptable to him, though, and I doubt the teaching set that comes with a generous donation is worth that $.14 anyway.

Listening to Parsley is a study in inducing nausea, though he does have a most revealing story about something he claims former charlatan Oral Roberts said to him.

Let me put this bluntly--what Parsley is saying here is blasphemy of the worst sorts. Nothing of what he says is biblical at all. Giving him $30.14 will do nothing to build your faith, it will only build his bank account and shrink yours. This is a scam, a fraud, and it is a shame to the church that charlatans like Parsley are in any way tolerated by the church.

Last year, there was the Strange Fire Conference, which got a lot of charismatics riled up. But are they riled up over this blasphemous camp meeting? Why not? Why are people like Michael Brown not getting on their soap boxes over Rod Parsley's blasphemous rhetoric? I found out about this camp meeting from an ad at Charisma Mag, why are they allowing such rot to be advertised on their site?

Can a church that tolerates people like Parsley really be expected to stand firm when the world comes knocking, demanding that their pet sins be tolerated, too?





Saturday, June 21, 2014

what is Destiny Image doing, putting out this book?

A while ago, I did something crazy, and joined Destiny Image's book review club, or whatever it was at that time. Hey, if I'm going to read NAR junk and put reviews of it on Amazon, it may as well be for free. I've tried to be fair and my reviews, and some have even had a slight positive side to them, but overall...yeah, garbage.

Anyway, DI did change things recently, and now they simply offer e-books for free or on sale on Amazon, and send e-mail notices about them.

So, a few days ago, I got one of the e-mails. There was a bit of an ad for a book they will release soon. What got my attention about this ad was the quote from someone whom I guess had read the book, and liked it. Here's that quote and the person who is credited for it.

"This book may just save Christianity from us Christians"--Frank Schaeffer.


I don't do it much, for reasons of health, but I know that I have opined about Schaeffer a few times here. For example, Schaeffer is the one who gave us such gems as "...BEHOLD REPUBLICANS WILL NOW OWN EVERY CHILD KILLED BY A GUN". Please note, I did not add the all-caps, that was Schaeffer's doing. Or, these paragraphs...

The terror unleashed on Norway - and the terror now unleashed by the Tea Party through Congress as it holds our economy hostage to extremist "economic" theories that want to destroy our ability to function -- is the sort of white, Christian; far right terror America can expect more of.

Call this the ultimate "Tea Party" type "answer" to secularism, modernity, and above all our hated government. Call this the Christian Brotherhood. From far right congress people, to far right gun-toting terror in Norway and here at home, our own Western version of the Taliban is on the rise.

Foreigners, visitors from another planet and Americans living in a bubble of reasonable or educated people might not know this but the reality is that the debt ceiling confrontation is by, for and the result of America's evangelical Christian control of the Republican Party.
 Please note, yes, I have linked to my own articles above. You can find links to the sources for those quotes on that page, but, frankly (pun intended), I have little desire to stomach any more of Frank Schaeffer's hate-filled nonsense then I must, and so will not link to his words any more than I must.

So, Destiny Image is proudly putting a blurb of this man's words in an ad for a giveaway for this book, Undiluted, by someone names Benjamin Corey. Take a good look at the book's cover, and you'll see that there are a few words in praise of the book at the bottom of the page, by one Brian McLaren. Yep, the same man who has pretty much denied every cardinal doctrine of Christianity.

Now, since the book's page has the author's website, I made a quick little visit, and was certainly not surprised by what I saw, given Schaeffer's and McLaren's words of praise. Basically, it's a blog in favor of progressive --ianity (that may be my new word for it, as there is basically no Christ in it at all).

So, in other words, Destiny Image is proudly promoting a book put out by someone on the far left. Yeah, let that sink in.

If you want to find basically any book on bad Charismatic theology, Destiny Image is your source. So, don't (repeat: DON'T) be surprised at Destiny Image and charismania going to the left. This isn't the first time I've seen this in charismatic writers, and why should it be a surprise? Consider that both charismatics and progressives put much more emphasis on hearing a supposed voice of God inside themselves, over what is actually taught in the Bible. Since both get their guidances from the same source, why should a meeting of their minds not happen?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

book review—The Power of Uncommon Unity by Joey Letourneau

fairy tale theology

I got a copy of this book when the publisher offered it for free.

This book is far too long. If someone had made him to cut out all the needless repetitions, this book may well have been about half it's current size.

I hardly know where to begin in properly critiquing the unholy mess that is this book.

First, I seriously think that this author has never read the Bible. Oh, he has his pet verses he hauls out ad nauseam, thinking they prove his points when they actually don't. But any hint of a serious study of what the Bible teaches is missing in the book, and his conclusions have little if anything to do with what any passage says.

For example, his mangling of the story of Jacob in this book is enough to disqualify him from any pretense of being a Christian minister. “Jacob received the blessing from his father, Isaac, and became a renewed person.” (p. 8). Where does the account of Jacob tricking his father tell us that he became a renewed person? It ain't there. “Jacob was about to leave to begin blazing the trail that was alive within him when his father, Isaac, blessed him again:” (p. 9). This is laughable! Jacob left because Esau was making plans to kill him for his trickery. And blazing the trail that was alive with him? What kind of nonsense rhetoric is that! “But we see that Jacob arrives at Bethel and he is at rest. He is not striving to prove himself or create significance.” (p. 11). It was night! Jacob was sleeping, what most people do at night! This guy's attempts to read his ideas into Jacob's life are so pathetic, that they cross over into the comedic!

Oh, and what he does to the account of Jesus raises Lazarus is, if anything, even worse. “Lazarus was wearing grave clothes, probably could have been considered unclean and in need of some help before he could go forward in life. Even Martha, who so eagerly waited for the miracle she wanted, couldn’t help but focus on the stench of death.” (p. 49). When Martha spoke about the smell, it was when her brother was still dead. “Rather, Jesus called out the life in Lazarus knowing that death would be left behind as Lazarus began to live forward. Jesus spoke to the potential of life within him, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11: 43).” (p. 50). What??? There was no life in Lazarus! He was DEAD!!! He had been DEAD for a few days! Lazarus didn't begin to live forward (whatever that means), he was brought back to life. There was no potential of life in him, Jesus himself made a dead man alive again.

Shall I go on? He tries to say that we have to be “shaken”, because of something that happened to a small group of people in the account in Acts 4. That is never taught in Scripture. “How many of us are waiting to be lifted into the same palace of our calling as Joseph was? That palace is waiting for you too, but it might not be where you thought it would be.” (p. 66). The account of Joseph is not intended to tell us that we all have some kind of real or metaphorical palace just waiting for us, any more than the account of Moses tells us we have to leave the palace and go into the wilderness.

This guy's main idea is unity. That's all well and good, but for all of his words in this too-long book, we get very little notion of what that unity is to be built around. And Christian unity is built around certain things. Read the epistles, and you'll see that those who tried to come into the churches and teach against sound doctrine, for example saying that Gentile Christians needed to put themselves under the Mosaic law, or that Christ had already returned, or attempted to add any works to salvation, were decried in the harshest terms. The early church was hardly a big tent.

But this guy's rhetoric is postmodern. “Unity in the Spirit is a seemingly misaligned alignment held together by the One who celebrates our diversity and created us to come together not in spite of, but because of our differences.” (from the Introduction). What diversity are you talking about? “The Father’s Blessing changes this; it embraces the differences in our lives and releases us to approve and empower the differences in others.” (p. 6). What differences are you talking about?

This isn't just a nitpicky set of questions. One of this author's other books, Revolutionary Freedom, has a positive review in it from Shane Claiborne, who is a part of the Emergent Church, someone way far to the left on theological and social issues. Any “unity” that welcomes someone like Claiborne is not Christian unity. The author favorably quotes Bill Johnson in this book. Any “unity” that welcomes Bill Johnson is not Christian unity. The author writes of the nonsense that happened in Toronto as if it were from God, which is wasn't. Any “unity” that says that is not Christian unity.

In the end, this book is more fairy tale than theology. As I've shown in a few examples, this guy doesn't tell us what the Bible says, he creates his own ideas and adds a little seasoning of biblical verses to make it seem like biblical teaching. His rhetoric about some special generation reveals him to be an NAR dominionist, but one with a postmodern twist. It's not the first time I've noticed the young NAR types sliding to the left, and it's not surprising, given that both the NAR and progressive theology are build on foundations of extra-biblical thought and whatever feels nice.

very interesting comparison

Charismatic teaching is breeding spiritual havoc

This man spoke at last year's Strange Fire Conference, and spoke well about the kinds of lunacy taking place in far too many churches in Africa. In this post, he makes some very good points about how, if the charismatics are going to focus on secondary things, then it is any wonder that the people will react as they do.

For instance, there is the view that God still speaks to us independent of the Bible. Drink this milk for a number of years and you will soon be attributing to God the inner voices coming from your fallen self. 
This is so common as to be accepted almost without thought by those who are not in charismatic circles. Teachings about "God's still small voice" are everywhere, and none of it is biblical, because the Bible doesn't teach us to strain to hear any kind of quiet, inner voice.

Perhaps his most interesting statements, though, come when he compares charismatic reactions to the lunacy that happens in charismatic circles to how some people in Islam speak of their religion.

There is a creepy similarity between this phenomenon and what is happening in Islam. There seems to be a fear by many people to state that Islam is the cause of the current mayhem in the world.
He goes on to note that, just as the actions of Muslims, even Muslim terrorists, may be indicative of something in Islam itself causing those actions, so too might the lunacy in charismatic circles be caused by teachings and practices in charismatic churches.

I've given a very little bit of this man's blog post, and recommend that you go and read it yourself. Very thought provoking.
 

Monday, May 26, 2014

heroes and buffoons

I'm not one who does heroes well. I figure people are like myself--fallen, sinful, doing even the best of works for suspect reasons. I'm not trying to denigrate anyone, for example military people who go into dangerous situations, or firemen and other types of rescue people. There is much to admire in them.

Perhaps I shall make an exception to my skepticism of heroes with these five men, whose names I don't know, nor much of anything else about them. Christian martyrs are people we can admire, and whose courage we can seek to emulate. And these are only a small representation of such Christians, in North Korea and in many other places, who do not deny Christ when threatened by pain or death. I'm giving only a bit of the account on the linked page.

NORTH KOREA RELIGION

In November 1996, the 25 were brought to the road construction site. Four concentric rectangular rows of spectators were assembled to watch the execution. Interviewee 17 was in the first row. The five leaders to be executed - the pastor, two assistant pastors, and two elders - were bound hand and foot and made to lie down in front of a steamroller. This steamroller was a large construction vehicle imported from Japan with a heavy, huge, and wide steel roller mounted on the front to crush and level the roadway prior to pouring concrete. The other twenty persons were held just to the side. The condemned were accused of being Kiddokyo (Protestant Christian) spies and conspiring to engage in subversive activities. Nevertheless, they were told, “If you abandon religion and serve only Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, you will not be killed.” None of the five said a word. Some of the fellow parishioners assembled to watch the execution cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steamroller.
Why have this disturbing account? Several reasons. Because it happened, because similar things have happened and are happening, and very likely will happen in the future. Because accounts like this help me stay strong in this increasingly darkening place.

But one of my main reasons is to show the buffoonery of too much of what passes for preaching and teaching in places that dare to call themselves churches.

Take a trip over to this site, The Museum of Idolatry, and take a look at what far too many places that call themselves churches are doing. There is perhaps no nicer word for it than "buffoonery". The church is acting the fool, hoping that will make the world like it more.

And, of course, in acting the fool, they have lost the foolishness of preaching, and instead preach foolishness. I've listened to several of their sermons, via Fighting for the Faith, and what they preach is simply not in the Bible. It might have a few out of context Bible verses attached, but anyone who bothers to actually look at what the biblical passage really says would find that the Bible is being severely misused by these people.

What these places that call themselves churches teach is such shallow, buffoonish things as how to improve your sex life, how to make your dreams fulfilled, how to have your best life now. They tell their people how to lose weight, how to get their finances in order, how to change the world. They have wrestling matches, circuses, motorcycle jumping, and many of kinds of entertainment in their churches.

Many make the boast that they are places were "No perfect people are allowed". Apparently not, because Jesus long ago left their buildings.

One of the worst outcomes to this is that their churches are basically filled with cowards. They want a cushy, easy life, and think that the easy of their lives, or the fullness of their bank accounts, means they and God have a good thing going.

I have my suspicions that, should these relevance-driven church leader be put in a similar position as those North Korean churchmen, they would be all too ready to do abandon their beliefs. Heck, most of them can't stand against the current attempts to legalize sexual immorality, and that's hardly serious persecution.

Remember these five men, who did not love their lives even to death. Remember them, and discard the teachers who only tell you what you want to hear.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

movie review--Godzilla (2014)

good, but lacks some things

I remember looking for news on any new Godzilla movies several years ago, and finding a bit of this, or that, or something else, but not much of anything that seemed really solid, or that I hoped was solid. For example, one thing I found mentioned that the man behind the comically bad Godzilla vs Hedorah (The Smog Monster) was going to make the next movie. If I remember right, it would be set in the South American rain forest, would involve a Hedorah-like polluting monster which Godzilla would battle, and Godzilla would get the beat down put on him but would be saved by a bunch of kids praying to him, I guess because in this movie the big guy would be some kind of rain forest guardian spirit or something.

Yeah, it was something like that. Glad that one didn't happen.

The previews and build-up to this Godzilla gave me some hope that this would be a good movie. The people behind it seemed to be taking it seriously, not relying on the kinds of cheap humor and gimmicks that wrecked the '98 Godzilla takes Manhattan movie. And I have to give them credit for largely succeeding.

By and large, most of the pitfalls of the '98 movie are avoided. The story has it share of clich├ęs, but overall plays things pretty straight. Godzilla in this movie is big and tough, the MUTOs are good "bad guys" who appear angular, insectile, and alien. The human drama is predictable but not badly so.

Still, the movie lacked something.

I think it could best be summed up in the scenes building up to the big reveal of Godzilla himself. He's followed one of the MUTOs to Hawaii, both have come on land, and have just started to face each other. We've had some good views of the MUTO, and now we get finally see the big hero himself, and he is impressive! He crouches, and the roar he gives is enough like the old Godzilla roar to be recognizable, but still very different, too. This is what we have been waiting for, it's time to some major kaiju fighting!

Then...we cut away, and the only things we see of this fight are on a newscast the son of the movie's two man protagonists is watching, a couple of brief seconds.

Even in the last part of the movie, beginning with the much-anticipated halo jump, the movie focuses more on the soldier's attempts to reacquire, failure to disarm, and then move the nuclear device as far from the city as possible, then it does on the monsters fighting. We get some good scenes of Godzilla putting the beat down on the giant female MUTO, then the two MUTOs double-teaming him and getting the upper hand, before the tables are turned and, in pretty spectacular fashion, Godzilla takes care of both of his kaiju enemies.

But all of that still feels secondary to what the soldiers are doing, instead of the other way around. The final giant monster fight is good, but it's far too brief, and never really seems to be the main source of drama for the movie. Recovering and removing the bomb is the main source of drama and tension, not whether Godzilla will win or not.

So, in my opinion, this movie is good, but not as good as I wished it had been. There's so much good in this movie, that it seems nit-picky to focus on the bad, but the bad is there, and even if it doesn't spoil the movie overall, it still takes away from it just a bit, just enough.

I hope this movie signals the start of a new series of Godzilla movies. That would be very good. After seeing what they did to Godzilla in this movie, I can't help but anticipate what they might do with some of the other regulars, like Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, Anguires, or Gigan.

book review—Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

somewhat interesting, but a bit of a slog

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books.

I want to give this author some credit for an interesting idea. The closest things I can compare it to are classic stories like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, and maybe the more recent movie Castaway, though it's very different in setting and tone from those.

Maybe that's one of my main hang-ups with this story, too.

For me, the first several chapters were a bit of a slog. I found it difficult to feel much of anything except annoyance at any of the characters. Everyone's interest seemed to solely focused on sleeping, eating, and having sex (called “slipping” in this book). Family structures are nonexistent, the consequences of which show up in the large number of people with various kinds of genetic deformities.

It does get better towards the middle and end, though not much outside of location has changed for the main group of characters. I thought the chapters being essentially written or narrated by different characters provide some points of interest, for example in how different characters viewed the same events or even each other.

One of the big problem I had was with the planet itself. Perhaps I am only showing my ignorance concerning how such a planet might really be, but if it's either a free-floating rock not orbiting any star, or doesn't rotate on an axis so that one side is always in night, then I'd think that such a place would be almost as cold as the vacuum of space, and humans could be unable to live there, especially in such a primitive fashion.

Another problem with the story could to traced to one of the big differences it has from works like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. It's been many years since I've read either of those books, but I do remember that they were books solidly rooted in the Christian view of things, thus the characters sought to improve their lots and had some idea of how to do it.

For example, in his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote “Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea.” Orthodoxy (p. 56). Some of the better scenes in Castaway are when the stranded character opens up boxes to find out what's in them, and to find ways to make use of those things in his current situation.

In Dark Eden, though, the few things they have from Earth are kept locked away, taken out and shown only at special occasions, more useless to them than museum pieces. There is a lot of talk about things people had and did on Earth, but that's about where it begins and ends. There's more to admire in The Professor on Gilligan's Island making a contraption out of coconuts, bamboo, and one of Ginger's hairpins then the sad community in this book.

I can't say that I really like this book, though I didn't come away disliking it all that much, either. Some of the talk about slipping (sex) got a bit much for me, though the overall casual sexual practices (and the results) were most uncomfortable. Still, there is a good story there, but for me, I'm not sure it's worth slogging into again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

good book on sale

Spiritual Anorexia

I did a review of this book a few weeks ago, and there was a recent comment there saying the book was going to be on sale for a few days, I think about a week or so starting today. And since it's a pretty good book, I'd suggest getting a copy of it. There's a lot of good things in it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

book review—Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

preview of things to come?

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

For me, the first few chapters were the weakest. Some of the author's attempts at humor came off as needlessly crude, and why the editors allowed the F-word to be retained at one point, especially in such a pointless way, is not easily understood, as it comes off as a gratuitous attempt to be shocking and offensive.

And there were times it seemed I was being asked to feel outrage at things I couldn't understand. Why should I be against homeowners setting up standards of dress and conduct for those who stay in their house? Am I suppose to think it wrong that parents are concerned about how their high-school aged daughter is dressing, the types of friends she has, the boys she's noticing? Am I suppose to think it ridiculous that a church teaches its youth to resist sexual temptations?

And am I allowed to notice a bit of irony that this publisher, Convergent, puts out this book, which seems to be very critical of a form of “community living” as the author's parents practiced it, but also has books written by at least one person involved in New Monasticism? Do NM communities that say you have to pool all the money you earn into a common purse, maybe have a small bit of money given to you for your own personal spending money, and may even determine if you may move away to pursue career aims, seem less oppressive than anything mentioned in this book?

The middle part of the book, until just before the end, was the strongest part. The attempts at crude humor are mostly set aside, and real serious issues with her grandparent's church are brought to the fore, and how they are affecting her and her own family. The double standards inherent in a cult of personality are shown, and those who dare to ask reasonable questions are told to not ask about such things. I doubt any reader would think the author and her husband wrong to leave that network of churches.

And some of her observations on the culture, in and out of the church, are rather pointed, too.

I think there are a few reasons this book may well be worth reading and taking the events recorded in it seriously. I think what the author went through is a lot like what many others are going through, and will go through in the not-too-distant future.

One reason is because the church the author got out of is not very unlike too many other churches today. It is becoming plain that too many megachurches are simply cults of personality. The vision-casting church leader has replaced the pastor who shepherds the flock of God, and in some cases the words of this vision-casting church leader have replaced the Bible. And it is becoming plain that there are double standards in such churches.

Similar to that is how obviously disqualified people are made into leaders in the churches. Do I need to mention names like Todd Bentley and Bob Jones, the prophet? And those are only two names among far too many.

To put it in so many words, in far too many ways the church as a whole is simply a disaster waiting to happen, as occurred with the church this author's grandparents started.

A 3 to 3.5 rating for this book is about the best and worst I can give it. I think it would be worth reading, though I don't have complete agreement with the author in everything she wrote.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Gospel is for Christians, Too

There were times when I'd wonder why I would attend church services, since very often the services I'd go to did not have much of anything to say to me. When the preacher gave a sermon about the Gospel, it wasn't directed at someone like myself who was already a Christian. Such a sermon was directed at the people in the congregation who might not have been Christians, or perhaps at the Christian who may have drifted and backslidden. When an altar call was given, and the half-dozen or so slow verses were being sung, it was understood that the altar was open only for those two groups of people.

There is certainly a place for preaching to those who are not redeemed, and a very important place, too. But if those are the only people to whom the message is directed, then are the Christians at the service just spectators? Are they there only because they should be? Is the Gospel only for those other people, but not for us who believe?

In the past few years, having been influenced by some people among Lutheran and Reformed churches, and attending an Anglican church, it's been a great relief and blessing to learn that the Gospel is also for me, too.

I am a Christian, but I have also sinned. I have been selfish and self-centered. I have been covetous. I have been angry without good cause, I have said things I should not have said, I have not said things I should have said. Even when I've done things that I would like to think are good works, I must acknowledge the truth of the Bible's statement that all of my works of righteousness are as filthy rags, that they are as soiled and polluted by my sins as a baby's soiled diaper.

In the services at the church I now attend, there is a time when we pray a prayer of confession, where we confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and not done. We confess that we have neither loved God with all our hearts, nor our neighbors as ourselves. A bit later in the service, we will celebrate the Lord's Supper.

The Christian guy who's put in 40+ hours the past week, the Christian woman who was waiting tables the evening before, the Christian parents who struggled to get the kids ready for church that morning, the Christian high school student who's struggling with all the things such a student goes through, all of these normal, average Christians, we all need to be reminded that Christ died for us, so that our sins can be forgiven. This isn't to excuse our sins, but to remind us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief”. While we should be growing in grace and doing the good works God has given us to do, the Gospel reminds us that the Christian life is not about what we do, but about what Christ did for us.

The Gospel is an important message for the unredeemed, that is true, but it is just as important for the Christian, too.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

book review—Just Jesus by Walter Wink

just the jesus he made up

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

This book is a mix of personal stories and some theological musings. I'll leave the personal stories alone, for what that's worth, because the theological musing are enough to show that the author's views are far from orthodox.

On page 162, the author says about himself, “Interpreting Scripture is what I do best, and most”. It would be closer to the truth to say that it is what he does worst, and least. He does not interpret Scripture; rather, he reads into it what he wants, or twists and contorts things to fit his own views.

For example, on pp. 99-112, there is a chapter (it seems to have been an excerpt from another of his books) about the vision in Ezekiel 1. This is what he says about that vision on p. 102, “And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN”, “But Ezekiel is not beholding a figure of speech. This is really what God is: HUMAN” (capitalizations in the book). Yeah, that's not in the biblical text at all. That's not interpreting Scripture, that's butchering the meaning.

Regarding what the Bible teaches about Jesus' return, he writes, “This heavenly “son of the man” is a long, long way from the Galilean teacher who renounced violence in the name of a nonviolent God”. Apparently, this author doesn't like the notion of Christ returning as a king and conqueror, because it doesn't go with the jesus he made up himself. So, what the Bible teaches about Jesus' return, the rebellion it will be met with and all that, needs to be jettisoned. That's not interpreting Scripture, that's butchering it.

His Jesus is a caricature. He states on p. 167 that he does not believe in the historical reality of Jesus' ascension. For him, Jesus is some kind of archeype of human beings ascending to some kind of higher state, of us not-quite-humans (whatever that may mean) reaching human-ness.

Pp. 152-156 is his attempt to say that homosexuality is now ok, that we should disregard what the Bible plainly teaches about it (and even he acknowledges “Where the Bible mentions homsexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it”, p. 154). His position is this, “The Bible has no sexual ethic.” Not sure where in the Bible he got the notion that the Bible permitted prostitution, p. 154, he offers no support for such a claim.

To put it succinctly, this author's theological musings add up to this; the elevation of mankind and the denigration of God. With a large dose of political correctness.

While I received a review copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah, it was published by Image Catholic Books. I'm not sure what the connection is between those two, but I must question the wisdom of any Christian publisher putting out this book. The views of God, of Jesus, and of Scripture in this book are aberrant and heretical. This author was clearly outside of the faith, and no Christian publishing company should be a part of promoting and spreading this work.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

book review--Introduction to the Old Testament Template by Landa Cope

questionable

There are some things about this book that I found rather annoying, and other, more serious things that seemed to be more than a little off to me.

Among the annoying things, for example, were things like this. The author kicks off the book talking about a time she was watching some kind of news program on TV about a certain city in the US and how Christian that city really is. She claims that this program caused her pretty serious distress, calling into question many of the things she had previously taught. But for such an important event for her and for this book, there is very little information about this program itself. We are not given the program's name, nor the name of the channel that broadcasted it. We are told that the journalist was British, but that doesn't do much to narrow things down. We aren't even given the year in which the author saw it. The author says that several pastors, "...the kind of pastors Christians would respect." (Kindle Location 170), were interviewed during the program, but we are not told who they were, nor are we told what they said except for the author's summation.

Another annoying thing the author does is constantly blame the church for the state of things in the world. For example, in regards to a trip she made to Africa, "In each nation the story was the same. Poverty, disease, violence , corruption, injustice, and chaos met me at every turn. I found myself asking, Is this "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? 2 Is this what the blessing of the gospel brought into a community looks like? Is this what a nation looks like when it is "reached"?" (Kindle Locations 218-221). One question that could be asked, though, is what gospel is being spread through Africa and all over the world? Very often, it's not the Gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, but the name-it-claim-it prosperity gospel. Let me recommend this book, Where Are We Heading To?, where the author tells of how these kinds of apostles and ministers are in it to build their own wealth instead of to minister to their people, who brag about their cars and how much their clothes cost instead of using the money the people give in wise and godly ways. Foreign Policy magazine did an article called "Angels and Demons", one part of which is about how supposed healing services in Malawi are causing people to claim to be healed of HIV, so they stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs. And at the site for the 2013 Strange Fire conference, there are two videos of presentations by Conrad Mbewe about the effects of this false gospel in Africa.

Mostly, I think the author's two primary claims are open to being questioned.

One is this, "As Christians, we do say our faith, lived out, will influence a society toward good." (Kindle Locations 176-177). "Our transformed lives are to be salt and light to our families, neighborhoods, communities, and nations, making them better places to live." (Kindle Locations 259-260).
Can we say that Jesus ever taught this kind of thing, or the apostles? Could we say, for example, that Jesus made Israel a better place to live in during and after His time? Did such things happen during the time of the Apostles and the early church? Jesus was the one who told His disciples that if the world hated Him, it would also hate them for loving and following Him. He was the one who told them they would have troubles in this world. He was the one who told them that they would be put into prisons and persecuted. He was also the one who prophesied over Jerusalem about the city's coming destruction for having rejected Him. And the apostles were not any more positive in their messages to the early churches.

"The early church transformed Israel, revolutionized the Roman Empire, and laid foundations for Western European nations to become the most prosperous in the world." (Kindle Locations 263-264). Israel was destroyed in the war that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Christianity struggled in the Roman Empire for a few hundred years, and even when Constantine recognized it, it is questioned how much that helped and hurt the Church.

The other claim that should be questioned has to do with what she calls her Cornfield Revelation. "The light flashed into my poor little brain. Revelation hit like a laser beam. Moses' job was to disciple a nation , to teach a people who had been slaves for four hundred years how to form and run their nation." (Kindle Locations 427-429). Where is it taught in the Bible that Moses was discipling a nation? Where does any New Testament writer point to Moses as the example of what Jesus meant when He told the apostles to teach all nations? Where does any New Testament writer tell us that in order for a nation to be considered discipled, the church needs to put that nation under the Law of Moses, or at least some contextualized version of some principles someone claims to have found in the Law of Moses?

This is a pretty serious claim on the part of the author. Is the Gospel really about putting people back under the Law? Can "discipling" really be summed up as simply making sure a nation's laws are based on someone's ideas of biblical principles taken from the Law of Moses?

To my mind, the author is failing to make what I've heard some in Lutheran and Reformed circles call "The proper distinction between Law and Gospel". How can there be discipleship apart from conversion? But for the unconverted, the law is not designed to make them righteous, it's designed to show them how far they have fallen, to show them their sins, and how much they need the Gospel of Christ crucified for their sins. Imposing the Law of Moses cannot lead to discipleship, it would be merely to clean up the outside of a dirty cup, and perhaps lead to the kind of result that Jesus accused the Pharisees of, that of making converts who are even more children of Hell than before their supposed conversion.

One of the signs that this author is not making this distinction is in statements like this, "He encouraged that if they would obey his teachings, they would not have poverty in their land." (Kindle Locations 830-831). There is a very big "if" in there, because none back then, and none now, are able to fully obey God's law. We have all sinned, we are all fallen, there is not a one of us who is righteous by our own works and attempts to keep the law. But this author holds it up as something we can attain, as if we can make even the churches, let alone the unconverted, fully obey God's laws.

For more on this, let me suggest a few resources. The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (ESV) and The World-Tilting Gospel

There is some wisdom in this book, but there is lot that could easily lead one into some very questionable areas, too. And I can't ignore the similarities between what is taught in this book, and what Seven Mountain Dominionists teach, too. While this author is much more sensible than someone like Johnny Enlow, her works point in that same direction.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

movie review—Noah

What were they thinking!!!

Considering that a major theme for this year's movies seems to be loosely-Christian ideas, it's of some interest to see how those ideas are shown.

Listening to some of the radio ads for the movie “Noah”, it's admitted that “artistic license” was used. I really have to say that it was a pretty serious license, almost to the point of making the story unrecognizable.

True, many of the basics are there. There's Noah, his wife, and three sons. There's an ark, and the animals. There's a flood, with water coming from both the sky and from the ground. Outside of that, though, it gets over into the realm of fantasy, and even worse thing.

For example, there were the Watchers, some kind of angelic beings who had rebelled against God and had been sent to Earth, to live in some kind of rock shells. They resemble the ents from The Lord of the Ring movies, or maybe some of the Transformers from those movies. The Bible makes no mention at all of them, and the notion that they are “fallen angels” who somehow still end up helping Noah becomes problematic, too.

Then, there's Noah himself. For about 2/3 of the movie, he's not a bad sort. It isn't until about the time that the flood begins that we see the emergence of Noah the nihilist, who thinks God wants the human race to end with him and his children, even to the point of keeping his sons from finding wives to take with them, except for Shem who marries a woman who is thought to be unable to have children, and wanting to kill his newborn twin granddaughters, who were born on the ark.

This nihilistic Noah is completely contrary to anything the Bible says about Noah. Genesis 6:18 “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.” Genesis 7:7 tells us that Noah's son already had wives, and they went with them into the ark. And Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah built the ark for the purpose of saving his household.

Even outside of that, there is much in the movie that is questionable. In Genesis 6, God plainly tells Noah what's going to happen. In this movie, Noah gets some strange dreams that he must figure the meaning for himself, and one reason for his fall into nihilism is because he thinks these unclear messages mean that God wants his children to be the end of the human race.

Although little is shown of the cities the supposed children of Cain had built, there is the hint that industrialism was one reason for God's displeasure in man, along with the eating of meat. The message from the creation, that man is to have dominion over the earth and subdue it, is put into the mouth of the movie's main bad guy, almost as if saying that this message was not a part of God's original order, but rather something inserted later by man.

Overall, this movie is disappointing, and even distasteful. This movie makes the biblical account of Noah seem like fantasy, and it makes a man of faith look like a psychotic maniac. Sadly, I cannot recommend this movie.

Friday, March 21, 2014

book review—How to Believe: Restoring the Passion of Worship by Tommy Tenney

garbage

I got a free e-copy of this book when Destiny Image offered it for free.

At one point in this book, the author makes this comment concerning the things some preachers say in their sermons, “He (God) probably listens to our preaching and says , “Did I say that? I don’t remember saying it quite that way….”” (Kindle Locations 1007-1008). He may be right, but it is not merely ironic, but hypocritical, for him to say that, because throughout this book he is continually putting words and ideas in God's mouth.

For example, he says in this book that we need to build a Mercy Seat. Good luck finding where Paul or any other epistle writer tells the churches to do that, because they don't. They don't say a word about the churches needing to build any such thing. Oh, but this author must be oh-so-much-more spiritual and enlightened then those old fuddy-duddy apostles from 2,000 years ago, 'cause he can tell the church that it needs to do something that they didn't even consider.

He says that we shouldn't trust anyone who doesn't have a limp, like Jacob. That makes about as much sense as looking at the life of Moses and saying we shouldn't trust anyone who doesn't stutter, or the life of Samson and saying we shouldn't trust anyone who hasn't been blinded. He says that if we are in prison, we should sing and praise like Paul and Silas did, and God will open up the prison doors for us. Funny, though, 'cause in Acts 12, Peter was asleep when the angel came to free him from prison. And Paul wound up in prison again later on, related in the last few chapters of Acts. I guess he just didn't sing and worship enough, 'cause he stayed in prison for quite a while.

When it comes to the Bible, the author is much more interested in reading his own make-believe stories and ideas into the accounts than in looking at what the accounts actually say. “Read the second chapter of Acts and explain to me why the disciples stumbled and staggered out of an upper room so inebriated in the Spirit that people accused them of being falling -down drunks.” (Kindle Locations 816-817). He should read Acts 2, and show us where it tells us that the disciples “stumbled and staggered out of an upper room” in anything like inebriation. It doesn't. “Esther refused to trade the winking approval of men in the king’s court for the favor of the king himself.” (Kindle Locations 943-944). There is no hint in the account of Esther that she experienced “the winking approval of men”, that's something the author found only in his own mind. He inserts this in the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, “They (the disciples) said something like, “Jesus, we saw a Burger King right down the road there. We’re going to get something to eat. We’ll bring you something back, is that okay?”” There is no hint in that passage that the disciples were in the wrong to have left to get food.

“He will even put “His strength into captivity ” to come sit with us because He is so desperate for us to be with Him (see Ps. 78: 61).” (Kindle Locations 660-661).That verse in context teaches no such thing. Psalm 78:56-66 tells of times when God's people Israel rebelled against God, and the consequences of that rebellion. Verse 61 is referring to God's judgment against His people, one form of which was them being sent into captivity. “When lucifer fell from glory, I believe a crucial aspect of heavenly worship fell with him.” (Kindle Location 1071). You won't find that taught anywhere in the Bible, nor his notion that God needs us to provide music in Heaven.

“In Exodus 19, He invited everyone in the group to come up and hear Him speak for themselves. This was an opportunity to go beyond the anointing and taste of His glory for themselves. The children of Israel basically said, “Moses, you go talk to God and find out what He says. You can have the intimacy— just take some juicy pictures and bring the anointing back to us” (see Exod. 20: 19).” (Kindle Locations 760-763). Has this author even read Exodus 19 and 20? If he had, he'd see that what he's writing about those chapters is not what is said in them. Exodus 19:24 “24 And the LORD said to him (Moses), “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.””

Finally, I want to return to what he wrote about the disciples acting like drunkards (they didn't, btw). This tells me that, when he talks about experiencing God's presence or the like, he's referring, at least in part, to the kinds of ungodly, blasphemous things that happened in Toronto and Pensacola, things like the blasphemous “drunk in the spirit” phenomena.

About the only thing this book proves is that this author has no right to consider himself a Christian teacher. This book is garbage, the author's sole interests are in bragging about himself and teaching his own made-up ideas. You'd be wise to find the nearest trash can, and chuck this book into it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

book review—The Quilted Heart Omnibus by Mona Hodgson

an outsider's review

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

First, I should say that I am an outsider to this kind of book. My normal tastes in fiction are usually more towards the sci-fi/fantasy section. There was a time a few years ago when I pretty much devoured the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L'amour, but they are a good bit different than books like this. Since this is a collection of three fairly short stories, I'll do a bit for each of the stories.

Dandelions on the Wind: Probably the best of the lot. It stays pretty well focused on the four main characters, while also making mention of others who would play parts in the later stories. The story may have seemed a bit rushed at times, but it didn't seem forced or contrived.

Bending Toward the Sun: Sadly, this one was hurried, and the ending did seem contrived. The girl's change from sensible and serious to love-struck was rather too sudden. While mention was made of the man's doubts about God, they are basically brushed over, as if his love for the girl were answer enough for his doubts.

Ripples Along the Shore: Probably the main problem with this one was that there was simply too much going on for this kind of short story. The preparations for the ride west upstaged the requisite romance, and several new characters come in who simply don't get developed all that much. This one would probably benefit from being made into a longer work.

Overall, I think a 3 or 3.5 is fair. My negativity towards the second story aside, they aren't bad story, but nor are they all that great, either. I like a good romantic element to stories, I'll admit, but when the romances become the main focus of the overall story, and a happy ending is basically guaranteed going in, it does get a bit dull after a while, at least for me. Other readers may disagree, and that's fine. I can't say that I found anything in the book that would make me tell anyone to stay away from it, so take my muted enthusiasm as a matter of taste, if you want.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

book review—I Like Giving by Brad Formosa

focused on the wrong things

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

There is some good that could be taken from this book. Wise acts of generosity could well be considered among the good works we are to encourage each other to do, and there are some accounts in this book that could well be good ones to read and think about.

But I have a hard time really saying that this book is a good one. Here's my reasons why.

C.S. Lewis began his essay “The Weight of Glory” by noting how the old virtue of love has been replaced by the more modern virtue of unselfishness. “A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of love”.

Understand, please, that many of the accounts given in this book do express a large degree of concern for the recipient of the act of generosity. But when, for example, the author says things like “When I choose to give with no strings attached and no sense of obligation, I have the sense that I am valuable, that I am needed, that I make the world a better place”, or “Remember, giving is for you—it gives you life”, then this seems to be doing much the same thing that Lewis describes. If my act of generosity is more about making myself feel good, or about giving life to myself, rather than a real and genuine concern for the one whom I wish to help, then am I really being generous? Am I not really being selfish?

Of course, none of us have completely loving or selfless motives. As the Bible says, even all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags, and as Jesus said, even if we should do all that God says for us to do, we would still consider ourselves unprofitable servants. We all must ask God's forgiveness for the times we fail to do things for the right reasons.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this book is that, while there is a modicum of God talk, there is little to no mention of God's love for us as shown in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. This lack is truly sad and even without excuse, given both that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”, and “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

In spite of some good accounts of generous acts, I simply cannot recommend this book as being a very biblically informed look at how individuals and churches should better be generous.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

book review—Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

almost good, but not quite

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

This has proven to be a surprisingly difficult book to evaluate fairly.

On the one hand, there are some parts of it that are rather good. For example, in Chapter 8, when he says this about God's love, “Because it's not a love based on what I do. It's based on what Jesus has done”, that at least I have no problems with. As well, the author isn't one of those “follow my formula, and everything in your life will be alright” types. As he relates in the book, he simply knows too many faithful people who have gone through some pretty bad situations, and that reality keeps him from going too far into the “You can have your best life now” type of thinking.

But while there are some good spots, far too much of the book is simply not so good.

Because what is the book about? It's about us and what we can do. “Brennan Manning wrote a line that perfectly describes what happens when the chatter gets the best of us: “Great deeds remain undone and the possibility of growth into greatness of soul is aborted.”” (p. 9). The premise is that the voice of this chatterbox can somehow keep us from doing these great deed or having this greatness of soul if we listen to it's negativity. It's simply the kind of book meant to boost your ego in what you can do, if of course you do what the author suggests, which will result in crashing your chatterbox.

But if anything, the concept of the chatterbox becomes cumbersome, even for the author. He simply cannot in all honesty say that this chatterbox's negative statements are always wrong or harmful. He can only try, such as in Chapter 9, to set up some ideas that show the difference between condemnation from the chatterbox and God's conviction. But these principles tend to be cumbersome, too. “First person is the default voice of condemnation.” (p. 133), but it was the Apostle Paul himself, in Romans 7, who writes “Oh wretched man that I am!”, definitely using the first person, and referring to himself in a very strong way.

Honestly, I found the idea of a chatterbox unhelpful after a while. If I may suggest something, what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 7 about the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow seems more helpful, and not as cumbersome.

It is possible to read this book, and find some good stuff in it. But one has to wade through a lot of motivational-speak, personal stories, and silly pop-culture references to find those small bits of good. I'm simply not sure it's worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

get it while it's free!!!

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism

I did a review of this book a few months ago, and it's one I recommend very highly. I don't know how long the Kindle version will be available for free, but at the moment it is. Again, very highly recommended!

Note: I think the time when it's being offered for free has now passed. But I still recommend getting it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

book review--Life Outside the Matrix by Venetia Carpenter

freeloader theology

In his book Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Michael Horton wrote "So much of what I am calling "Christless Christianity" is not profound enough to constitute heresy...the message of American Christianity has simply become trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant." This book, "Like Outside the Matrix", perfectly fits that category. Although a few statements do indicate some aberrant beliefs, overall the book is so shallow and silly, it's difficult to imagine people taking it seriously. But, given the state of the church nowadays, the profane is often called profound.

The basic premise of the book is this, "Jesus was actually asking me to quit my full-time job, sit in prayer before Him for extended hours, journal what He was showing me, and trust Him for all my provision." (Kindle Locations 152-153). And what was one way she was taken care of? "As I began to do this I was led to food and household provision through friends who actually provided me with these things free of charge!" (Kindle Locations 187-188).

What reasons would I have to doubt that she got those instructions from Jesus? Take a look at II Thessalonians 3:6-12, and see if that passages in any way recommends this kind of freeloader non-activity. If anything, it is very much against it. "6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." Paul in this context even gives the command, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat".

This author's statement that Jesus told her to quit her job and do nothing to earn her living is directly against Paul's statements and example, and I'll take Paul over this author any day. This woman received no such command from Jesus.

This author tries to convince the reader that they need to see into something she called "the supernatural realm". This is something the Bible says nothing about , she must simply attempt to insert it into a few verses. "The more I pondered this verse (Hebrews 11:6), I came to realize that the supernatural realm is really our birthright as believers." (Kindle Location 170). A look at the verse, and it's context, has nothing to do with any supernatural realm.

And the trite and shallow nature of this book is also evident in how Jesus is written about. Jesus becomes a car lot owner who wants to put you in a sweet ride, a metaphor for provision. Jesus is the partner who's waiting to give you those provisions if you look into the realm of the spirit. "Our partnership with Him calls things into being on this earth even though our physical eyes can't see them right away." (Kindle Locations 360-361), even though the Bible never says that we are able to call things into being. This is simply Word of Faith nonsense.

I got an e-book copy of this book when Destiny Image offered it for a free, and that may well be the only good thing about this book. I'd hate to think that the money I worked long and hard for would end up going to someone promoting this kind of freeloading theology.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

book review—Cloak of the Light by Chuck Black

good story, but remember that it is fiction, not theology

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

I want to deal with this book from two angles, story and theology.

Story—It has an interesting premise, that the results of an experiment causes the hero of the story to see things that no one else can see, and how this young man acts and reacts to the things he's seeing that no one else can see. The story keeps up a fairly good pace, and kept my interest.

A bit on the down side, while the main characters were likeable, they were not always all that believable. While many of Drew's actions made sense, I still got the impression that things became too The Matrix-like with his super-fast reaction times and how he came to use them. Perhaps because we see things mostly from Drew's eyes (it's not a first-person story, but still told from his perspective), Sydney sometimes comes off as too perfect, always doing the right things for all the right reasons.

The “invaders” are an interesting take on the whole angels and demons thing, if one keeps in mind that it is only the author's speculations. One good thing the author did was to factor in Drew's and Berg's ignorance about things spiritual and religious, so for them the “invaders” are not angels, but other kinds of beings.

Theology—Spiritual warfare is a big thing in a lot of churches and movements, and the teachings about it can be rather bizarre. While I'm trying to keep in mind that this is a work of speculative fiction, there are some aspects of what happens in this story concerning the spiritual warfare that happens in it that did cause me to wonder.

For example, why were the evil invaders (demons) unable to follow Drew when he took a boat out on the water? And why did it seem like even a good invader (angel) was hurt when rain fell on him? Maybe it was only a device for the story, but it's an odd one. Following that logic, one would think that a submarine would be completely demon- and angel-free. I don't recall any such thing being taught in the Bible, either.

In another part, the story's main battle towards the end, the good invaders (angels) are empowered when Sydney seems to be praying. This is a fairly popular teaching in some circles, that our prayers empower angels or free them to do things or keep them employed, but even the author, in the study guide at the end of the book, notes that the Bible doesn't teach that this is how prayer works.

So, on the one hand, I enjoyed the book as a story. It was a quick read, and kept my interest. Perhaps that is how it should be read, as speculative fiction, as simply a fairly good Christian sci-fi thriller. But one should be wary of reading it as an example of spiritual warfare, or as a glimpse into how angels and demons fight each other.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

book review—A Godward Heart by John Piper

short writings, but substantial

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

Devotional writings have never been something I've ever really liked. Usually, they are too short to offer much of substance, which means they are often little better than a bit of fluff.

It may be going too far to say that this book is a devotional reader for those who don't like devotionals, but there would be some truth in that kind of statement. The chapters are not very long, and each covers a different topic. But though the chapters are brief, they have real substance to them, as the author offers real biblical teachings about the topics he writes about.

It has been a very thought-provoking read for me, and I would guess that would be true for others who would read it. I recommend it highly.