Tuesday, December 28

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker, a review

The first book by Ted Dekker that I read was Thr3e and within pages I was drawn completely into the story. Shortly after that the Circle trilogy was released and I delved further into Ted Dekker’s words, and loving them.

Ted Dekker’s latest novel is Immanuel’s Veins. It is set in Russia during the 1700’s. Though it is supposed to occur in our world, it fits loosely into the Books of History Chronicles that Ted Dekker has been working on ever since the release of Black.

Toma, the main character and occasional narrator, along with his friend Alek are charged with protecting two beautiful young women (Lucine and Natasha) from danger. Toma grows nervous when a strange group of Russians seem to appeal for the affection of these women. Toma, operating under the direction of the Empress of Russia, has reason to believe this strange group has villainous plans. However, he too has fallen for one of the daughters. Now he is at odds with the leader of this strange group – Vlad – for her heart.

Thursday, December 23

Slave by John MacArthur, your true identity in Christ

In his newest book, Slave, John MacArthur examines the way the Bible in commonly translated. Specifically he examines the term that we commonly render as ‘servant.’ According to MacArthur, this may be a mistranslation and the original language may mean something closer to – “Slave.” Don’t expect to read this in a single sitting.

The books itself is not written in a way that is difficult to read. To the contrary, MacArthur writes in a way that non-Bible scholars can understand the concept and the implications. However there is just so much information that I found myself wanting to take time after each chapter to reflect.

MacArthur slowly develops his argument, starting with his findings. He then goes on to describe what slavery at the time would be like. This is an especially interesting section. Many times, Slavery brings to mind the history of the United States with slavery and modern day forms of slavery. However, slavery during the time of Christ was different, and the roles of slaves and masters is shown to be important in understand our relationship with God.

John MacArthur is an excellent writer . His writing is concise and thought provoking. He writes in a way that can appeal to those interested in delving further into the Bible as well as providing good material for Bible Studies to use. In fact, there is a companion piece to this book aimed at such studies (though I did not review that particular item).

The one thing I didn’t like in this book is the marketing of it. It is being pushed as revealing a cover up in the Bible. He mentions it briefly throughout the text, however it seems more to be a selling point for the book rather than a fully supported idea.

4/5 stars

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, December 19

Mere Churchianity

Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Some of you may know Michael Spencer by his blog, Internet Monk. There he often wrote to those who were growing disillusioned with the church as we see it here in America. Michael passed away in April of 2005 from cancer.

Mere Churchianity is the only book he has published. It is subtitled, “Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.” At first glance it would be easy to group this book into the rest of generic books on spirituality and how to be a spiritual person. However, after perusing a few chapters you’ll be able to quickly tell that this is not the case. Rather, this book is a response to said books.

The forward by Water Brook’s editor reveals that Michael was apprehensive about how his book would be received by the Christian Community, and especially by the Christian School he worked for. This book is often direct and does not always show the modern church in the most pleasant light. He offers his thoughts on how the church is pulling away from true spirituality and is trying to present their own manufactured ‘god.’ In trying to move past the stereotype Christianity created by fundamentalists, the church now moves in a whole direction. Let me give you a quick sample of Michael’s thoughts on how the western world presents Jesus.

“In the Western world, we long ago passed the point where Jesus was someone only religious leaders could talk about. Jesus is now a corporate, political, and social symbol. He is appropriated by those who want to claim their products or agendas are recommended and endorsed by God. The image or mention of Jesus conveys authenticity in a way that nothing else can approach.”

While present a sharp critique of the church, a critique is more what the book lends itself to. For Michael offers his thoughts on ways the church might be able to overcome this.

It is a thought provoking read and I liked how Michael was able to express his problems with the church without being overbearingly negative. However, I don’t fully agree with Michael’s conclusion. While he doesn’t entirely dismiss the church as not being necessary, he certainly leans in that direction. He acknowledges the importance of the church but at the same time seems to underplay the role of the church as a community of believers.

This is a great book to read if you are someone who struggles with church and for anyone who is starting to question the church as a whole while unsure of whether they can retain the Christianity. However, if you are part of a church and you feel as if it is having a positive effect on your Christian life, you may find this book a tad harsh or biting at times.

3.5 stars

You can download the first chapter here if you would like to get a better taste for the book.

Rate my review here.

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, December 14

The Social Network, a review

The Social Network

At first I was ho-hum when I heard about. But then I noticed the guys at ScriptShadow (who I follow quite closely now) reviewed the script and loved it. Reviews praising the film rolled in and I figured I had to see it.

The Social Network does so many things right. Right away they firmly establish Mark Zuckerberg’s character. It perfectly starts Mark’s emotional arc and is a key event in the film. Starting right on a forward movement really propels the story.

Even when characters are working on computers, a scene that would be boring in nearly any other movie, there is a feel of tension and driving force. Each character is introduced brilliantly. Stakes are constantly raised. There are three threads woven in this story. Two of them are lawsuits brought against Mark. Then, intertwined between these two lawsuits is the story of Mark Zuckerberg. While a bit about Facebook, it is more about the hurdles he faced and the people who influenced him, whether negatively or positively. Though for much of the film he is not entirely sympathetic, the final act brings everything to an emotional close. During this final act the tension continuously ratchets up.

This film has so many great qualities. The story is engaging and the characters have depth to them. Though often heavily fictionalized it does not prevent it from taking you on an emotional ride with the characters. It also deals with many themes, including friendship and greed which come across strongly in the film as well.

8/10 stars

Wednesday, December 8

Is Jesus A Luxury For You?

Is Jesus a luxury for you?

This question was posed recently by Tamrat Layne to students at Cornerstone University. For those of you who don’t know, Tamrat is a former Ethiopian Prime Minister. He was a communist, an atheist, and guerrilla fighter.

The idols of Tamrat were Marx and Lenin. He read 48 volumes by Marx and 52 by Lenin, and dozens more by others promoting the communist cause.

In 1977, around the age of 21, he went to the mountains of Ethiopia to join a group calling for freedom from the reigning communist regime. As Tamrat describes it, the communist regime in power could be considered a different ‘denomination’ of communism and the ‘demonination’ the rebel group belonged to held antagonistic views toward their government.

“Freedom comes out the barrel of a gun.”

Working with many others he helped build a guerilla army of tens of thousands of soldiers, where he ended up serving as a chairman on the military committee. They spent fifteen years fighting, communist versus communist.

So, through guerrilla warfare they fought and eventually overthrew their government. Tamrat was elected as Prime Minister. After four years he shifted positions and was the defense minister for one year. After that one of the former friend’s rose to power and order Tamrat to be arrested for misuse of power. He was given an 18 year sentence. During those early months Tamrat tried killing himself.

When he could not succeed he started searching for a new life. He read book after book, philosophy, history, and religion. He read Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian texts. For a while he studied the Koran diligently until one day a nurse brought him a Christian flier. After reading it and accepting it he prayed and Tamrat said that Jesus appeared to him in a vision.

“I am Jesus. Believe in and follow me…If you follow me I will give you the life you are searching for.”

Tamrat answered, “I surrender.”

And for the first time in his life Tamrat said he felt peace, joy and hope, though for a while he still carried thoughts of vengeance toward his former friend. Tamrat was later released for good behavior, serving 12 out of the 18 years. When he reconnected with his wife, she told him that Christ came to her around the same time as Tamrat. And after being released, Tamrat was finally able to forgive his friend.

“My heart was so strong and calloused he had to come himself and hammer it.”

Tamrat came to Cornerstone to bring a message. The message was not only of the importance of Christ but of the necessity of Christ. He asked the students, “Is Jesus a luxury for you? ... It is not a luxury. It is not a part time thing. It is a necessity. It is a breath. It is not business as usual.”

Having grown up on the completely other end of the spectrum, Tamrat realizes this importance. However, he realizes that to American Christians who are used to it, it is easy to get used to. Jesus should not be a fad or something to just show off. Being a Christian requires more than a smile and fish bumper sticker. It requires devotion. It calls for you to carry your cross. It calls for you to forgive your neighbor, even if he had you arrested.

Tamrat said he has given up politics. His only desire is to spread the gospel of Jesus. He hopes that someday he will be able to return and minister to his own people. Recently Christianity has been growing in Ethiopia, a report that gladdens Tamrat, though he still knows the journey will not be easy even as he seeks to grow in faith.

“I have faith, complete faith. I am still being transformed.”

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light,that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world." John 1:4-9, Tamrat’s favorite Bible passage.

Sunday, December 5

The Silver Hand - a review

The Silver Hand by Stephen R. Lawhead

The second book in the Song of Albion trilogy, and, for me, the strongest book in the trilogy.
Before I give the spoiler warning I will tell you this: This is one of my favorite books told in first person. Lawhead does something completely surprising and dangerous, but it works. Either read past the spoilers or pick up the book for yourself to find out (I recommend the later to begin with).

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Paradise War and The Silver Hand.
The Silver Hand takes place immediately after The Paradise War. The first thing I should note is that the POV changes. While the first book is told first person from Lewis (now Llew), this book is told first person from Tegid’s perspective. I also will not be detailing the plot as much as I did in The Paradise War and will be offering more of what I liked/disliked.

First of all, Lawhead is a master at descriptions. In reading this book I can completely envision this world. I can almost smell the sea and hear voices of the characters. This is made even stronger less than a quarter of the way through the story.

What happens?

Prince Meldron, envious over his father’s throne and enraged that Tegid is about to hand the kingship to Llew leads his war band to take over. During this violent regime change Llew’s right hand is cut off (a maimed man cannot be king) and Tegid is blinding. Yes, the narrator is now blind. For much of the book Tegid relies on his sense of smell and hearing as well as Llew describing the scene for him. And despite this availability to have Llew describe everything, it does not feel as if it burdens the dialogue. In fact, much of it deepens Llew’s character as we can see Llew becoming even more a part of the world his is in. Also, Tegid is granted an ‘inner’ eye, a gift that seems to be from Albion’s deity that allows him visions of the present. Though this may seem cop-out, it is used sparingly and Lawhead follows a strict rule when granting Tegid this ‘inner’ eye.

Second, Lawhead works the prophecy from the first book well into the narrative. Though they can be cliché, Lawhead was not wrote a interesting one, but it unfolds slowly over the course of the book, and at its conclusion it still isn’t completely satisfied. Generally when I see prophecies a few things are addressed in the beginning of a story and then the rest is rushed at the end. Not so here.

Depictions of evil are done incredibly. As a reader, I get a great feel for how evil Meldron is. His seizure of kingdom is literally destroying Albion It is a strong metaphor for the corruption of power and yet it never feels like an overwhelming metaphor. Instead I grow anxious to see the final confrontation. For here is an evil that is truly powerful and that may be more than a match for the hero. That tension is held magnificently.

I don’t really have many complaints about this book. If I did it is that it felt episodic. After being cast out, Tegid and Llew begin to raise up their own army, slowly but surely. However, a lot of the events that happen feel almost like a film montage only in chapter form. They are written well and there is tension maintained and built, which is why I did not find it distracting.


9/10




I received no form of compensation to review this book.

Thursday, December 2

Churched - a story of bitterness

Reading Christian memoirs after reading Blue Like Jazz is a lot like watching fantasy movies after The Lord of the Rings came to theaters. It is inevitable that they would be compared. And when the memoir makes a special point to appear extra humorous while picking at Christianity that comparison only grows.

Case in point, Churched by Matthew Paul Turner. The subtitle is One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess. Matt grew up in a Baptist church during the 70’s. And not just any Baptist church. A Fundamentalist Baptist church. Matt makes that point very clear. Occasionally jumping around in time when events call for it, the book starts around the age of four or five, detailing much of what went out in the Turner household and within the Baptist church.

Any of you who grew up in a Baptist church during the 70’s may recognize much of what he experiences: a fire and brimstone pastor, going to movies was a sin, and dancing was sure to send you straight to hell.

Matt tells this much as a semi narrative story of his life., however it was I found hard to engage. A major distraction for me the lack of large conflict. Yes, he had trouble with his church and was scared of going to hell. But much of what Matt writes seems over exaggerated. He goes into great detail what he thought and did at the age of four. When I remember that age I don’t remember everything I though nor even if it was three, four, or five. I tend to have quick emotions as memories. And I sure doubt I could effectively read an adults mind as if he were an adult.

I guess in a nutshell, the book is a series of stories from Matt’s life. Each story is presented humorously at first. However at the end of the story, instead of a full punch line Matt verbally punches the Baptist church in face. In writing about the extremely fundamentalists in his church Matt often comes across as writing a scathing review of church.

He also includes completely unnecessary asides to his story. In one instance he mentions how a high school student at his school (a Baptist school) would fill in for the secretary for a short time each day while the secretary taught a class. Later he mentions that there were rumors that the principle was accused of sleeping with the girl. It is something that feel completely out of place. The principle is not a key character in his story and only serves to give information that not only is unnecessary but it seems to intentionally cast some from his church in an ugly light for no other sake that to put them in the ugly light.

Finally, there is no strong resolution to the story. There is a quick couple pages at the end where Matt explains that he finally found a church he likes as an adult. But that too feels like an aside. I felt like the whole story was going to lead up to him forgiving the church, though not always agreeing with it. However at the end, the bitterness still seems present and that bitterness infects too much of the story that it almost drowns out the moments of humor.

As I mentioned earlier, this book will draw comparisons to Blue Like Jazz. However that book was told well. There was conflict that felt real. There was loss and disappointment. And then there was forgiveness and there was hope. There was no bitterness, even when Donald Miller would disagree with something. There was love, and love is not something I felt in this book which was saddening given how much Matt seemed to desire his church to show love instead of fire and brimstone.

2/5


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255