Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Cross of Christ, by John Stott


An extremely thorough discussion of, well, the cross of Christ--its purpose, its theological significance, its results, and the ultimate effect it has on our daily lives.  He also explores alternate interpretations and ideas (regarding the cross) and explains why he has rejected them.  Stott is quite thorough, and his style is decidedly matter-of-fact.  The book is a bit dry at times, and certainly rather dense, but there's more than enough richness of content to make up for the less-than-sparkling prose.

I particularly enjoyed Stott's discussion of the substitutionary nature of the cross.  In the cross we Christ substituted for us. Christ lived a perfect sinless life, thereby satisfying the law of God, and then bore the penalty for our sin, thereby satisfying the wrath of God against sin.  (Stott is careful to point out that this was a joint plan, carried out by the Trinity together.)   Once Stott has laid this groundwork, he moves on to the various metaphors for salvation--that is, redemption, justification, adoption, and reconciliation.  Stott is careful to note that while we experience each of these aspects of salvation, they are all built on the foundation of self-satisfaction through self-substitution.

From there, Stott moves on to other issues like sanctification, victory, community, our attitude to ourselves and our enemies, and suffering.  While the cross affects all of these aspects of life, I found Stott's analysis of these subjects less compelling.  However, the first half of the book more than makes up for any shortcomings in the latter half.  Definitely a worthwhile read for those looking to dig a little deeper into the theology of the cross.

A Token for Mourners: or, The Advice of Christ to a Distressed Mother, by John Flavel (in Works of John Flavel, Volume 5)


Really more of a three-and-a-half star book.  In other words, better than The Touchstone of Sincerity and Navigation Spiritualized; not as good as Husbandry Spiritualized or A Saint Indeed.  Here, Flavel shares his advice on how to avoid mourning overmuch--a sticky subject if ever there was one.  However, as the Epistle Dedicatory points out, Flavel's first wife died giving birth to their first child, and he lost his second wife as well, so the man knows of what he speaks.

It must be noted, however, that the exegesis here is a bit rocky.  The advice is sound, but Flavel bases the whole of the work on Jesus' words to the widow who'd lost her only son: "Do not weep."  However, since Jesus raises the son mere moments later, it is not at all clear that his words are meant as an admonition to grievers everywhere not to mourn too passionately.  Indeed, it seems more likely (to me) that he was letting her know that he was about to remove the cause of her grief altogether.  Still, the conclusions Flavel draws about what it means to grieve as Christians are based solidly in Scripture.  Just not this particular Scripture, methinks.

Fair warning--Flavel does not have much to offer in the way of comfort as we tend to define it in modern day America.  His comfort is based in his understanding of human depravity--that is, whatever grief you may suffer, rest assured you deserve worse, and other have endured worse. He notes that death should come as no surprise to the Christian, and that nobody dies a moment before the time established by the Sovereign Creator. He admonishes us not to become overly attached to persons, but to find our joy in Christ and His sacrifice for our sin.  He reminds us that we'll die soon ourselves, and then be reunited with those we've lost.  Tears are to be expected, he notes, but he will have none of this moping about for long periods of time--grieve and get over it is his philosophy.  This man does not pull any punches.  (At one point he even asks how long the mourner will sit 'musing upon a dead creature'.)

I have not experienced much real grief in my life, so I honestly don't know how this book would be received by the actual mourners for whom it was written.  I could certainly see this being something of a slap in the face for those still in the raw, early stage of grief.  Still, as I've said, his counsel is based firmly on the Bible.  And after all, there are times when we all need a slap in the face.

(For those who don't want to invest in a whole volume of Flavel's collected works, the substance of this book is also available in a stand-alone volume called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners, (with foreward by Mark Dever) published by Banner of Truth as part of their line of Puritan Paperbacks.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Breath of Angel: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle, Book 1), by Karyn Henley


Melaia is a chantress, trained in the art of storytelling, but the story of her life seems pretty dull.  She's never left Navia, where she was left on the temple steps as an infant.  She wants to travel, to see new places, to have adventures, but soon she gets far more than she bargained for.  It turns out that the Angels in the old stories are real--as are the humans who ate the forbidden fruit of the Wisdom Tree, thereby gaining immortality.  But the Wisdom Tree was destroyed, and with it the Angels' ability to get home to heaven and into other worlds.  The angels on earth--and all the souls of those who've died since the Tree's destruction--are trapped on (or under) the Earth.  They can only be freed by the restoration of the Tree . . . but who will do it?  And how?  And what does all this have to do with a certain ancient harp and the handsome stranger who comes to Navia in search of it?  Melaia is about to learn the secrets of her past--secrets that may very well decide her future . . .

Let me start off by saying that this book is loads better than the second one.  Which is not to say it's a great book--it isn't.  But it's much more readable--and thus more enjoyable--than Eye of the Sword.  The primary reason for the improvement is the point of view.  This story is about Melaia, and hers are the eyes through which we see the world.  Which is convenient, since she (like us) is largely ignorant of the details of Angel culture and lore.  She doesn't know about the hierarchy of Angels, or the true legend of the Wisdom Tree.  She doesn't know how the Wisdom Tree is to be restored, or even what significance that restoration has. She has to be taught these things, and as she learns, we learn. This results in a steady stream of new information, to be sure, but the flow is measured enough that the reader can digest most if not all of it, and there are mercifully few sentences that begin with awkward constructions like 'she remembered the time [X important event happened]' (a construction that occurred with distressing frequency in Eye of the Sword).

There are, to be sure, an awful lot of names.  The characters trudge through various locales with names like Redcliff, Qanreef, Navia, the Durenwoods, the Dregmoors, and so on, and there are probably more characters than we really and truly need.  And there's still some rather confusing exposition on kinds of Angels that have yet to make an appearance in either story.  On the whole, however, it's much less overwhelming than the second book.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz


A rather intrusive narrator walks the reader through a gory retelling of a half a dozen or so of the Grimms' lesser known fairy tales.  The catch?  All six stories feature Hansel and/or Gretel in the role of the protagonist.  The opening tale explains the siblings' motivation for fleeing their seemingly idyllic home (and their thoroughly unsatisfactory--to them, anyway--parents); hence the initial 'Hansel and Gretel' woodland adventure.  Their quest for better parents carries them through the Grimm wilds of fairy land and back again, where they discover that danger threatens their home . . . Will they be able to reconcile with their parents and save the kingdom of Grimm?

I confess, I feel a bit ill-at-ease about my impression of this book.  It came to me highly recommended by friends, and the reviews have been consistently good.  Perhaps all this hype built up my expectations, but I confess I was a bit . . . underwhelmed.  However, upon further reflection, I think that my response may be more the result of the selected medium than of the book itself.  I opted for the audiobook rather than the print version.  This was a mistake.

A paean to the personal library

[O]ne’s books are one’s biography. [...] 
My books are not dead weight, they are live weight—matter infused by spirit, every one of them, even the silliest. They do not block the horizon; they draw it. [...] A wall of books is a wall of windows. And a book is more than a text: even if every book in my library is on Google Books, my library is not on Google Books. A library has a personality, a temperament. (Sometimes a dull one.) Its books show the scars of use and the wear of need. They are defaced—no, ornamented—by markings and notes and private symbols of assent and dissent, and these vandalisms are traces of the excitations of thought and feeling, which is why they are delightful to discover in old books: they introduce a person. There is something inhuman about the pristinity of digital publication. It lacks fingerprints. But the copy of a book that is on my shelf is my copy. It is unlike any other copy, it has been individuated; and even those books that I have not yet opened—unread books are an essential element of a library—were acquired for the further cultivation of a particular admixture of interests and beliefs, and every one of them will have its hour. The knowledge that qualifies one to be one’s own librarian is partly self-knowledge. The richness, or the incoherence, of a library is the richness, or the incoherence, of the self. [...]
~"Voluminous", by Leon Wieseltier (in The New Republic)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Misanthrope, by Molière


Alceste, the titular misanthrope, is frank to a fault and disgusted with humanity.  He is also, to his consternation, enamored of the young and flirtatious Célimène.  But then, so is every other Tom, Dick, and Harry (in this case, Acaste, Oronte, and Clitandre) in town . . . a fact which causes Alceste no small amount of frustration.  Meanwhile, two other women have the hots for Alceste, who of course is far too lovestruck to care. When Alceste ignores a friend's advice and gives a rather scathing critique of a poem penned by one of Célimène's more highly placed suitors, he finds out just how costly honesty--and love--can be.

The audiobook is a bit hard to follow, since it can be a challenge to keep track of who is speaking.  Which is not to say that the print version is better. I expect, like most plays, it's better watched than read (or merely listened to).  Still, it's a clever, snarky play full of zingers--entertaining and well worth your time.

A note about translations:  Richard Wilbur's translation is exquisite (which makes sense, since he's won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry twice, and been named the United States Poet Laureate).  Rather than simply converting Molière's poetic comedy into mundane prose (a sadly common choice among translators), his translation is in verse, and even maintains the same rhyming couplets. The rhymes are natural, and somehow make the funny bits funnier.  It's a bit Elizabeth Bennett-as-voiced-by-Dr.-Seuss at times (sort of a Cat in the Hat and Cravat and Waistcoat), but Wilbur clearly has a gift for rhyme to rival the legendary Fezzik.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber


This book is utterly delightful--short, sweet, and chock full of delicious details.  There is a brave prince.  There is a beautiful princess.  There is an evil Duke who wears both a monocle and an eye patch.  There is a woman who weeps jewels, a flock of man-eating geese, and a spine-chilling something that "punish[es] evildoers for having done less evil than they should."  There are spies.  There are quests.  And there is a one-of-a-kind Golux, about whom it is impossible to say more without depriving readers of the joy of  the discovering him for themselves.

As if all this wondrous detail weren't enough, the story is told in delightful, lyrical prose that positively tingles on the tongue.  While I'm sure the print version is thoroughly enjoyable, the ably-narrated audiobook version allows the reader to savor the sounds of the words.  In fact, I suspect that if I'd read the print version, I would constantly have to fight the urge to read passages aloud, simply to taste the words--to feel them on my tongue and hear them tinkle like whimsical bells in my ears.  Thurber is clearly an extremely skilled writer with a deft touch, an appreciation for the ridiculous, and a flair for wordplay.  I very much look forward to reading his other works.

I will leave you with the words of the inimitable Neil Gaimain, who described the book far better than I ever could in his introduction to the 2008 hardcover edition:
I read [this book] when I was about eight. I was fairly certain it was the best book I had ever read.  It was funny in strange ways.  It was filled with words.  And while all books are filled with words, this one was different: it was filled with magical, wonderful, tasty words. [...] 
It is short--not too short, just perfectly short. [...] I watch Thurber wrap his story tightly in words, while at the same time juggling fabulous words that glitter and gleam, tossing them out like a happy madman, all the time explaining and revealing and baffling with words.  It is a miracle.
Works for me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The case for Lent from a (sort of) Reformed perspective

[E]very year somehow it's so easy for Easter to slip up on us, and suddenly we're saying, 'Oh, my goodness, it's palm Sunday already!' Let's think of some ways to be prepared, to be waiting for Easter. [...] 
In some churches, fasting has been a traditional way of expressing dependence on God during Lent. Of course, like any other religious observance, fasting is only as significant as the intent of the heart. The practice may be nothing more than legalism, or on the other hand, it can be a way of saying, 'Oh, God, I want you more than I want any of the good things in my life--food, videos, crossword puzzles, shopping, etc. You are the one who fulfills my desires.' 
We may find that a fast of some sort helps us recognize our reliance on God.  Whether it's a fast from some particular food or meal or from some activity, such as watching TV, reading the newspaper, or surfing the Web, we need to remember that fasting is two-sided. It's not just turning away from something for a while, but it is also turning toward God. In the time that is 'added' to our day through fasting from some activity, we might:
  • consider the depth of our sin and the height of God's love in Jesus, asking God for forgiveness.
  • remember Jesus' forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, and consider the temptations that hit us the hardest.
  • pray for our enemies and the people in our lives who are most difficult to like.
  • pray for the salvation of a neighbor, coworker, or family member. 
[...] Even if we don't feel led to fast during Lent, let's ask God to show us what it is that we depend too much on, and ask him to help us cut back that dependence while we lean all the more on him.
~Treasuring God in Our Traditions, by Noël Piper (pdf available here)
Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us. 
Fasting reveals the measure of food's mastery over us--or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God. 
A real lived-out human act of preference for God over his gifts is the actual lived-out glorification of God's excellence for which he created the world. Fasting is not the only way, or even the main way, that we glorify God in preferring him above his gifts.  But it is one way.
~A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, by John Piper (excerpted in Treasuring God in Our Traditions)

I grew up observing Lent.  Which makes sense, since my family attended a Protestant church that observed Lent (along with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, which we commemorated with a sunrise service in a local cemetery), but even when we switched to a much less liturgical church, I continued my Lenten activities.  And while I understand much of the hostility to liturgy, church calendars, and the empty legalism that so often accompanies Lent, I still cherish this tradition.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Touchstone of Sincerity: or, The Signs of Grace and Symptoms of Hypocrisy, by John Flavel (in Works of John Flavel, Volume 5)


Not the most helpful work.  Flavel here undertakes an admittedly difficult task: the distinguishing of the hypocrite from the true believer.  However, as Flavel himself admits, there is no litmus test for true belief.  Any one 'sign' of faith could very well be present in a mere pretender.  Likewise, any 'symptom' of hypocrisy could manifest in a god-fearing saint.  Indeed, honest Christians will readily admit that the symptoms of hypocrisy are far more prevalent in their lives than they should be.  

Flavel is thus left with the following conclusions: 
Conclusion 1:  X is a clear indicator of hypocrisy, except when it isn't. 
Conclusion 2:  Y is a clear indicator of grace, except when it isn't.  
A theologically sound set of statements, to be sure, but perhaps not terribly helpful. Particularly since the insecure Christian, reading about the signs of hypocrisy, will in all likelihood be quick to identify them in his own life and become even more insecure. And he may not be wrong--there is something of the hypocrite in all believers (a predicament that is unlikely to change until we are gathered to heaven). Meanwhile, the foolishly confident 'professor', oblivious to the signs of hypocrisy in his life, may be able to point instead to 'signs' of grace which further bolster his otherwise unfounded assurance of his faith. 

I realize that Flavel's intention was precisely the opposite--that is, he intended to reassure to the doubting Christian and to rebuke the hypocrite--and this work may well have had the intended effect on many readers.  However, I found it confusing and unsettling.  

That being said, if you suspend the ultimate conclusion--that is, the answer to the question 'Am I really a Christian?'--the text could be read as a moderately helpful tool in identifying areas for growth.  Thus, instead of frantically wondering whether the presence of X sign in your life makes you 'not a real Christian', simply accept that sign as sin, praise the Lord that it has been paid for on the cross, ask God to enable you to fight that sin, and start fighting.  So taken, as a treatise on the sin of hypocrisy, the book could be useful.  It's still not up to quality of Flavel's other works--The Mystery of Providence and A Saint Indeed are my favorites thus far--but it'll do.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jane Eyre (1944)


I think we may have a winner.

While Joan Fontaine is far too pretty to be a believable Jane Eyre, Orson Welles is far and away the best Rochester I've seen to date.  And good thing, too, since this version focuses much more heavily Jane's gruff employer than on the titular character herself.  Jane's thought life and personality are not well developed, though periodic voiceover readings from the 'text' help flesh her out a bit.  But Welles shines as Rochester in all his brusque and peremptory glory.  Where other Rochesters are inclined to mopey artistic petulance and whiny temper tantrums, Welles explodes off the screen, full of thundering rage and masculine pride.  This is no mewling, puling poet, but a strong, authoritative man whose misguided efforts at courtship, though effective, are manipulative, cruel, and callous.  We believe that he is something of a social outcast, that Blanche must be after his money.  We believe that Jane, with her extensive experience of hardship and cruelty, is largely unperturbed by his bluster and can see through the rough exterior and harsh words to the man beneath.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ, by Patrick Henry Reardon


This is, or wants to be, a biography of Jesus.  Or at any rate, a biography of his humanity, as it's far from an exhaustive account of all his activities. Reardon walks through the life of Jesus from birth through his youth and pre-ministry adult years, on into his earthly ministry, to the cross, the resurrection, and beyond, explaining how he thinks the dual nature of Christ as the God-man worked itself out.

I have to confess, I had high expectations for this book.  The cover proudly proclaims that Dr. Russell Moore (professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Adopted for Life, among others) wrote the foreword, and in that foreword, he claims that this book "is the best treatment of the humanity of our Lord Jesus that I've ever encountered" and that it's Reardon's "finest work".  (This language was slightly softened in his recent blog post on the book, which was virtually identical to the foreword, but described the book as "the best contemporary treatment of this subject that I've ever seen." (emphasis added))

So I was pretty excited.  But by the time I finished the book, my excitement had changed, first to confusion and then to disappointment.  Let me explain.

Rotters, by Daniel Kraus


An excerpt from a new review posted on Children's Books and Reviews:
[...] Thus begins Joey’s sordid and grotesque adventures as a grave robber. His father teaches him all he knows, and Joey comes to find a certain confidence in his ability as a ‘digger.’ However, when they meet up with his father’s ‘colleagues’—particularly a deeply disturbed, odd looking man known as ‘Baby’—things get very dark very quickly and Joey’s struggle for social survival morphs into a struggle for physical survival. As Joey comes face to face with human depravity (including his own), he learns that the living can be far more rotten than any corpse. [...] 
Credit must be given to Kraus for so effectively immersing his readers in this deeply uncomfortable story. 
Then again, it is just that: an uncomfortable story. It gets dark very quickly and it stays dark for the duration of the book—dark and disturbing. [...] 
At the end of the day, this is an extremely well-written and unpleasant book, with no admirable characters, no real lesson, and not much in the way of substance or redeeming value. Given the darker nature of the story, I would be disinclined to recommend it to younger readers—the book is billed as being appropriate for ages 14 and up, but I would not recommend it to anyone under 15 or 16. Then again, I don’t know that I would recommend it to anyone of any age.
Full review available here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Only a Puritan . . .

Consideration 5:  If it be bad now, it will be better shortly.
O keep thy heart by that consideration: the meal in the barrel is almost spent; well, be it so, why should that trouble me, if I am almost beyond the need and use of all these things. The traveller hath spent almost all his money, but a shilling or two left: well, saith he, though my money be almost spent, yet my journey is almost finished too; I am near home, and then I shall be fully supplied.  If there be no candles in the house, yet it is a comfort to think that it is almost day, and then there will be no need of candles. I am afraid, Christian, thou misreckonest thyself when thou thinkest thy provision is almost spent, and you have a great way to travel: many years to live, and nothing to live upon; it may not be half so many as thou supposest; in this be confident, if thy provision be spent, either fresh supplies are coming, though thou seest not from whence, or thou art nearer thy journey's end than thou reckonest thyself to be.
~A Saint Indeed: or, The Great Work of a Christian, Opened and Pressed, by John Flavel (section entitled 'How a Christian may keep his heart from distrusting God, or repining against Him, when outward wants are either felt or feared"), in The Works of Flavel, volume 5

Essentially Flavel is saying that if your straits are really so dire, either a) God will meet your needs, b) He will give you the grace to bear the circumstances, per I Cor. 10:13, or c) you will die.  In which case you will be with Christ and you won't need whatever it is anymore anyway.  Either way, your time of 'need', your period of trial, your suffering, will be of short duration.  If you lack an actual can't-live-without-it need, God will meet it or you will die.  

It's actually a surprisingly comforting--if unusual--reminder.  We tend to think of our hardships as unlivable.  But usually they really, really aren't.  They're unpleasant, sure.  And they take a lot of patience and endurance and literal long-suffering.  But God enables us to endure our trials.  And if they're really and truly unendurable, He will either deliver us from them, or He will bring us home.  
Only a Puritan would think to encourage the suffering with the reminder that their difficulties will soon be relieved by death.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Eyes on the prize

I WOULD not live alway—live alway below!
Oh no, I ’ll not linger when bidden to go:
The days of our pilgrimage granted us here
Are enough for life’s woes, full enough for its cheer:
Would I shrink from the path which the prophets of God,    
Apostles, and martyrs, so joyfully trod?
Like a spirit unblest, o’er the earth would I roam,
While brethren and friends are all hastening home?

I would not live alway: I ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o’er the way;        
Where seeking for rest we but hover around,
Like the patriarch’s bird, and no resting is found;
Where Hope, when she paints her gay bow in the air,
Leaves its brilliance to fade in the night of despair,
And joy’s fleeting angel ne’er sheds a glad ray,        
Save the gleam of the plumage that bears him away.

I would not live alway—thus fettered by sin,
Temptation without and corruption within;
In a moment of strength if I sever the chain,
Scarce the victory’s mine, ere I ’m captive again;        
E’en the rapture of pardon is mingled with fears,
And the cup of thanksgiving with penitent tears:
The festival trump calls for jubilant songs,
But my spirit her own miserere prolongs.

I would not live alway—no, welcome the tomb,        
Since Jesus hath lain there I dread not its gloom;
Where he deigned to sleep, I ’ll too bow my head,
All peaceful to slumber on that hallowed bed.
Then the glorious daybreak, to follow that night,
The orient gleam of the angels of light,        
With their clarion call for the sleepers to rise
And chant forth their matins, away to the skies.

Who, who would live alway? away from his God,
Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode,
Where the rivers of pleasure flow o’er the bright plains,       
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns;
Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Saviour and brethren transported to greet,
While the songs of salvation exultingly roll
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul.        

That heavenly music! what is it I hear?
The notes of the harpers ring sweet in mine ear!
And see, soft unfolding those portals of gold,
The King all arrayed in his beauty behold!
Oh give me, oh give me, the wings of a dove,   
To adore him—be near him—enwrapt with his love;
I but wait for the summons, I list for the word—
Alleluia—Amen—evermore with the Lord!

~"I Would Not Live Alway", by William Augustus Muhlenberg

HT:  The Mortal Coyle

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In my place condemned He stood . . .

The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.  Man claims prerogative which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone. 
~The Cross of Christ, by John Stott

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake


This books follows the adventures of young Titus Groan, the seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast--a role to which he is by no means reconciled. As Titus resents (and occasionally rebels against) his lordly responsibilities, the cleverly malevolent Steerpike plots his own advancement, by whatever means necessary. His schemes take him through the vast expanse of Gormenghast--a sprawling, decrepit castle of truly mind-boggling dimensions.  But Steerpike's subtle machinations have not gone unnoticed, and Dr. Prunesquallor and exiled valet Flay are hot on his trail.  In other news, Dr. Prunesquallor's spinster sister is on the hunt for a suitor.

The Gormenghast novels are notoriously difficult to categorize.  There are definite gothic influences, to be sure, but there is a flavor of high fantasy about the series, even though it contains no magic or supernatural elements (unless you count the sheer size of Gormenghast itself), and no non-human intelligent races (though several human characters seem a mere hair's breadth from goblins or dwarves or gnomes or elves).  The focus on the hierarchical social structures, and the 'drawing room' nature of many of the sequences has led some to dub this a fantasy of manners.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges


Jerry Bridges walks the reader through the three bases for trusting God:  His sovereignty (6 chapters), His wisdom (1 chapter), and His love (2 chapters).  There are also brief discussions about contentment with self, growth in adversity, and the importance of thanksgiving in hardship.  The focus here is primarily on the sovereignty of God, which makes sense since the book was essentially a result of Bridges' own personal bible study on that subject.  His discussion of God's sovereignty is beyond thorough, while the sections on God's wisdom and God's love feel a bit like an afterthought.  The closing chapters feel a bit tacked on as well.

I think Bridges would have been better served to limit his book to the subject of God's sovereignty.  That is clearly the subject he spend the most time researching, and the area where he seems to have struggled most with trusting God.  However, for those of us who struggle more with trusting the love or wisdom of God, this extended treatment of God's sovereignty--over circumstances, people, nations, and nature--does not really address our issues.  And to those of us who believe that God is loving, wise, and sovereign, but who simply (and sinfully) do not want to endure His plans for us (they look so hard!), Bridges seems to have nothing to say.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)


Hillbillies Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are the proud owners of a dilapidated mountain cabin in the middle of the West Virginia woods.  It's a bit of a fixer-upper, but Tucker and Dale are excited nonetheless, and head out to their new 'vacation home' to make some much needed repairs.  Unfortunately, a group of obnoxious, preppy college kids decide to camp in the woods nearby, where they of course regale themselves with the tale of the Memorial Day massacre twenty years prior, when killer hillbillies brutally murdered a bunch of college kids in these very woods.  Through a series of misunderstandings that makes Three's Company look like a masterpiece of effective communication, the college kids mistake the harmless and bumbling Tucker and Dale for the murderous backwoods hillbillies, and they are determined to fight (perceived) fire with fire.  Humorous and deadly shenanigans ensue.

Allow me to say, right off the bat, that this movie is not for the faint of heart.  In the spirit of Shaun of the Dead blends traditional horror cliches with broad (and gory) comedy.  And much like Shaun of the Dead, there is more than enough blood and guts and violence to go around.  Granted, the violence is predictable (it is a well known corollary to 'Chekhov's gun' that you cannot include a wood chipper in a horror film without sending someone to meet his or her untimely end therein) and comedic--sort of an extreme and bloody slapstick--but it is violence nonetheless.  You have been warned.

Prodigal Son (Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, Book 1), by Dean Koontz and Kevin J. Anderson


What if Victor Frankenstein and his legendary monster were not just the nightmares of yesteryear?  What if they roamed the streets of modern day New Orleans?  Bodies are turning up all over the Big Easy . . . each with a different body part missing.  Police detective Carson O'Connor and her partner Michael Maddison think they're on the trail of a normal--if brutal--serial killer, but their investigation reveals horrors they never imagined, as they encounter Frankenstein's original (though reformed) monster and discover a race of more-and-less-than human killers poised to wreak havoc on humanity.

This is not Koontz's best work.  The plot is somewhat convoluted, with no fewer than 4 nefarious killers working independently of one another and with different motivations (not counting the not-so-nefarious Original Recipe Frankenstein's Monster).  Some of that is to be expected, as Koontz is laying the groundwork for what would eventually be a five-volume series, and has to come up with sufficient villainy to sustain the series.  The end result, in this volume anyway, is choppy and disconnected.  We bounce back and forth among perspectives and situations in a manner more annoying than interesting.

Which is unfortunate, because each villain is pretty darn compelling in his own right.  Any one of them would have been an admirable nemesis.  As it was, there were so darn many bad guys that they all sort of blurred together.  The other characters are also well-drawn--Carson and Maddison are likable and entertaining;  Frankenstein's not-so-monstrous monster is fascinating; Dr. Frankenstein's latest wife is sympathetic; and even the various victims (at least, the ones we meet) seem like actual people, not just cardboard cutouts.

Bottom line:  A mediocre execution of an intriguing concept. The capable narration in the audiobook version (kudos to Scott Brick) improves the story a bit.  Just not enough.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eye of the Sword: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle, Book 2), by Karyn Henley


Trevin has been both a thief and a traitor--now he is pledging fealty to King Laetham of Camrithia, in an effort to atone for his past sins and protect the woman he loves: King Laetham's daughter Melaia.  But someone else is also interested in Melaia--a swaggering, untrustworthy Dregmoorian prince who promises peace in exchange for marriage with the princess.  Trevin is powerless to stop their marriage, as the king sends him off to look for the missing comains (knights) who disappeared without a trace years before.  Trevin is determined to succeed in this quest, and in another: he wants to find the missing harps Melaia needs to restore the stairway to heaven.  Along the way, Trevin battles false accusations, his own guilt and shame, and a variety of more substantial enemies as well, and eventually discovers truths about his past that could change his future forever . . .

If this all sounds kind of confusing, good.  Because it is.  This book is ridiculous.  The whole thing is chock full of Henley's fantasy vocabulary--place names, magical races (including so many varieties of angels that she includes a chart in the opening pages to help the reader remember the difference between Ophanim, Kuriotes, Archae, Thronos, Exousia, Archangels, regular Angels, and Nephilim--many of whom do not even appear in this book), positions of power, magical substances, quests, mythology, and heaven (heh) only knows what all else.  There are plotlines criss-crossing all over the place.  Rejius wants to kill Benasin; Laetham wants to find his missing comains and restore peace to his lands; Stalia wants to take over Camrithia; Melaia wants to unite the three magic harps to restore the stairway to heaven and then maybe marry Trevin; Trevin wants to make up for his shadowy past and maybe marry Melaia; Varic wants to kill Trevin, take over Camrithia, and maybe marry Melaia . . . it's a mess, is what I am saying.

L'Abri, by Edith Schaeffer


Francis Schaeffer's widow recalls their years at L'Abri, a retreat-cum-commune they founded in the Swiss Alps.  Although they originally intended to serve as more traditional missionaries to Switzerland, the Schaeffers ended up opening their chalet to literally hundreds of visitors who came to ski the slopes and talk through difficult questions with Edith and her husband.  From their first few years in Switzerland, through all sorts of political, financial, personal, and physical obstacles, to their eventual settlement in Huémoz, she looks back on the Lord's faithfulness and his supernatural provision for them and their ministry.

This book is a wonderful meditation on God' faithfulness to answer the prayers of His people--and of His ability to raise up and bless the ministries He ordains.  In the midst of the intellectual confusion and quest for truth that characterized the 1960s, Francis Schaeffer was a voice for truth--an example of intellect and faith blended together without compromising either.  Edith does not delve into all her husband's ideas and arguments; her story is focused on God's provision and the answers to prayer.  And indeed, she shares story after incredible story of the Lord meeting their needs--sometimes at the last possible moment.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Politics and the sovereignty of God

As God can protect his people under the greatest despotism, so the utmost civil liberty is no safety to them without the immediate protection of his Almighty arm. I fear that Christians in this country have too great a confidence in political institutions . . . [rather] than of the government of God.

Bridges goes on to say:
Government bodies at all levels are increasingly telling us what we must or must not do . . . sometimes they are good decisions, at least from our point of view; sometimes they are bad decisions.  At all times, those decisions, apparent or not, good or not, are under the control of our sovereign God.  We should put our trust in God, not in the decision-making powers of politicians, governments officials, and even Supreme Courts.
As the American government retreats from its previous high esteem and respect for religion, American Christians should be encouraged by this reminder that the sovereign God who preserved Israel through slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon is just as sovereign over our current political situation.  If He wants to protect His people from suffering, He can and will do just that.  As we face the increased threat of negative consequences for speaking the truth about sin and salvation, this knowledge is a great comfort.  Even if abortion continues unabated, even if the law tries to silence those who would share the gospel, we trust that no hardship or suffering will fall on us that is not part of God's sovereign will. And by and large, we do a decent enough job of believing this--of trusting that God is sovereign over seemingly negative circumstances.  If worst comes to worst, we know God is in control.

However, just as prosperity can be more damaging to faith than adversity, I think perceived political success can distract us from trusting God.  If we succeed in out efforts to outlaw the mass slaughter of the unborn, if we defend the sanctity of marriage, if we get the bible back in schools, if we protect religious liberty--whatever our own 'Christian' political goal, we (or I) tend to believe that if we are successful, then prosperity and blessing will follow.   While pursuing justice and protecting the rights of Christians are worthy goals, the simple fact is that our security does not come from rulers or powers of principalities.  The best government in the world is no protection if the Lord sees fit to allow (or cause) seemingly negative circumstances.  Even if we succeed in every possible 'Christian' political endeavor, we will still suffer.  Jesus assured us we would.  Our security does not come from good laws any more than we are doomed by bad laws.  Again, striving for just laws is good.  But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that good laws will eliminate suffering.  We endure suffering or enjoy blessing when God sees fit to bring it into our lives, regardless of the kind of laws we live under.

Our hope in adversity and in prosperity, under unjust and unjust law, must still be the sovereign and holy God.