Friday, April 29, 2011

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, by Kevin DeYoung


Really more of a three-and-a-half star book. DeYoung presents a convicting indictment of this generation's obsession with "finding God's will," particularly where it leads to decision-making paralysis. He acknowledges the importance of wisdom and is careful not to completely discount all "leadings" of the Holy Spirit, which is good, because sometimes you do feel like you're "supposed" to do certain things, not because they are or aren't sinful or wise or whatever, but just because you are supposed to. It doesn't happen all the time, and God doesn't promise it will happen when we want it to (or at all), but it still happens occasionally. Just not consistently enough for you to build your whole life around the idea of waiting to hear from God on every little thing. As a perfectionist, a legalist, and a worrier, I found this reminder quite helpful.

A short book, and an easy read, this makes a great devotional.

Man of the Family, by Ralph Moody


Another stellar entry from Ralph Moody. Even if it does make me feel like a lazy, incompetent layabout in comparison. I think I liked this one better than Little Britches--instead of being the superstar golden boy, Ralph is forced to use his skills to provide for his family.

This would be a great book to read to little boys . . . plenty of action and cowboys and adventure and shenanigans for them, but Ralph's moral center (impressed on him by both his mother and his now-deceased father) makes him an admirable role model for kids in many ways. He is hard working, uncomplaining, creative, devoted to his family, and tries very hard to be honest and fair. Hard work is presented as the norm and even a blessing, which is a much-needed lesson in our complacent, affluent, and entitled society.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, by Lauren F. Winner


Loved this book, particularly the focus on the challenges of living as embodied persons, the importance of conforming those bodies to the arc of the gospel, and the communal (as opposed to purely private) nature of sex. Winner's theology of sex is excellent, and her critique of the church's teaching on sex is spot-on. Definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin


I can certainly see why this is classic. Le Guin weaves a compelling tale, albeit one rather short on characters. The hero of the story--Ged--is the only real character in the whole book. There are a few mentors (well, one, really) and a friend. But he interacts largely wih faceless, two dimensional beings: the teacher, the fisherman, the supreme wizard, etc.

It must be said that Rowling undoubtedly owes a great deal to Le Guin--Ged, the unlikely child prodigy, attends a school for wizards where he is at first ostracized, then hailed as the wizard to end all wizards. He experiences hate-at-first-sight with a spoiled little rich kid, and in his eagerness to best this "enemy," he takes a risk that nearly costs him his life . . . until the head of the school sacrifices himself to save Ged. Then Ged goes off on a quest to find and kill the evil he is fated to fight . . . only one of them will survive . . . Sound familiar?

Still, it must be said that while Rowling may have borrowed from Le Guin, she also improved the story. Where Earthsea is largely peopled by stick figures and cardboard cutouts, Hogwarts teems with vibrant, lively characters--characters you love and want to spend more time with. Le Guin is clearly more focused on Ged and his journey. She has no eyes for anyone else.

The journey itself is entertaining, and sometimes eerie, but the resolution is almost anticlimactic, and smacks more of self-help and psychobabble than a meaningful encounter between hero and villain.

Yet the book is still excellent, and enjoyable to boot. It may not be quite on par with Rowling (or Tolkien, or Gaiman), but it is undoubtedly a pleasant way to wile away an afternoon.

Women of the Old Testament: 50 Devotional Messages for Women's Groups, by Abraham Kuyper


Another quality entry from Kuyper. Occasionally he embellishes fact with what appears to be his own vision of what was going on behind the scenes, which can be frustrating. But in many cases, he presents these biblical characters in new (to me, anyway) and insightful ways. Not everything he intuits about every character is based in incontrovertible fact, but the lessons are largely sound (even if the passages in question don't necessarily illustrate those lessons).

Worth reading, and easy to digest (each section is about 3-4 pages in length, and the sections are discrete, so it's a great daily devotional).

Answers for Chicken Little: A No-nonsense Look at the Book of Revelation, by Dan Boone


A decent but not necessarily remarkable treatment of Revelation. Boone has a great handle on the current affairs of the first century (when the book was written) and has some decent conclusions to draw based on the symbolic meaning of the text, but he largely ignores any real-world future application.

He rightly points out that many writers focus exclusively on the future events described in Revelation, essentially treating the book as irrelevant to all Christians prior to the current generation. Boone makes the opposite error, treating the prophetic aspects as dealing almost solely with the events of John's day. The only significance for us today seems to be in the run of the mill, mundane challenges of the Christian walk. So, for example, we all face 'anti-Christs' every day, because an anti-Christ is really just anyone who denies Christ. Which yes, but also: no. There appear to be real, future, judgment day events described in Revelation; not just metaphors for life. I do not advocate for trying to correlate point for point the modern age with the events in Revelation (it seems a waste of time, since Christ Himself told us we weren't going to figure it out), but there's no denying that some seriously heavy stuff will go down before the end. And Revelation seems to be telling us about it, even if we won't understand how until after the fact.

Still, the book is good, and well worth reading (especially since it--and the chapters in it--could hardly be described as lengthy).

The Greatest Thing in the World, by Henry Drummond


A short and simple treatment of I Corinthians 13. Drummond doesn't really break any new ground here, but he does a good job laying out the importance of love (paramount), the source of love (God, who is love), and the characteristics of a loving person (patience, kindness, etc.). Nothing earth shattering here, but definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read it. And probably a good resource for those who are less enamored of long complex treatises on biblical concepts.

I was sort of annoyed by the periodic ALLCAPS phrases--they interrupted the flow of the writing and honestly were sort of confusing. But other than that, it's a decent little book on, as Drummond notes, the most important thing in the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Science Fact/Fiction, by Edmund J. Farrell (ed.)


A fantastic collection of short stories. As with any collection, there are a few stinkers, but by and large the stories are excellent. Which is hardly a surprise with authors like Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, H.G. Wells, and Philip K. Dick contributing. (And Roald Dahl, though oddly enough his story is not one of the stronger entries in the collection. Science fiction writing is, perhaps, not his forte.)

Very easily digested, as well. Most of the stories are only a few pages long, so it's easy to work through this collection in small increments--great for the reader who only has a few minutes at a time.

The introduction ("Science Fiction: Before Christ and After 2001," by Ray Bradbury) is one of the best defenses I've seen for the legitimacy of the science fiction literature. (Not least because he echoes my own sentiments regarding the value of the genre.)

If you appreciate good science fiction and enjoy the short story format, you would do well to track down a copy of this book. It won't be easy--the thing's been out of print for a while--but it will be well worth the effort.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul


A good book, to be sure, and Sproul turns an excellent phrase, but he seems prone to rabbit trails. Interesting rabbit trails, to be sure. But on more than one occasion, I found myself wondering what a particular tangent had to do with the overall point of the book. Again, the tangents were well-written and I enjoyed them. I just don't know that they were necessary in this particular book. However, this may be the result of listening to the audiobook--I think this tendency would be much less noticeable in the hard copy format. I plan to read the book-book as well (for note-taking and underlining purposes--I can only absorb so much via audiobook), so we'll see if that helps. And I look forward to reading other Sproul volumes as well, to see if the trend continues.

Still, it's definitely worth a read. I'm hoping to read J.C. Ryle's Holiness at some point, so it will be interesting to see how the two books compare.