Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, by Dallas Willard


Here's the thing.  It all comes down to what you mean by 'hearing' God.

Willard argues that our relationship with God should be conversational, that He should (and does) speak to us on a regular basis, if we can just hear Him.  After all, the rest of our relationships are characterized by communication--why would our relationship with God be any different?

And I agree with him . . . up to a point.  See, I believe God does speak to us.  I just think He speaks to us first and foremost through His Word.  Willard is quick to argue that surely this amazing God didn't just speak at one time in history and then just stop.  Surely He speaks today. And I think He does. But again, I think the bulk of that 'speech' is contained in the Bible.  God didn't just speak once and then stop.  He spoke and He continues to imbue those spoken words with His Spirit--Himself--in the present.  After all, non-Christians read the Bible all the time, but is God speaking to them?  Speaking in the same way He speaks to His children when they read His Word?  The Bible is not just words on a page--it is the very Word of an eternal, unchanging God.  His Word is living.  It is active.  In this sense, I think we can say God continues to speak, today, through the Word He spoke in the past.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Gospel According to Die Hard


An excerpt from a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
All through the Old and New Testaments we see the recurring themes of sin, sacrifice, grace, and the love that grace produces, described in terms of marriage, infidelity, separation, and unmerited rescue.

But this particular version of the story doesn’t come from the Bible.  It doesn’t even come from the romance shelf of the Christian Fiction section in your church library.  The source is perhaps a surprising one:  It’s the plot of Die Hard.
That’s right.  Die Hard.  Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, and a host of Hey! It’s That Guy-types from the 1980s.  Hardly the place you’d expect to find the gospel.  There’s swearing, for Pete’s sake.  And violence.  But then, the gospel is a bloody business, isn’t it?  Sin isn’t pretty—it’s messy and filthy and disgusting and costly.  And the cross isn’t clinical or antiseptic.  The rescue of the church from the hostile forces of sin was not without consequences.  Serious, bloody consequences.
Full review available here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London


The adventures of Buck, a ginormous St. Bernard-Scotch Shepherd cross who is kidnapped (dognapped?) from his posh California home during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s.  Buck is unceremoniously shipped up to the Yukon, where he is forced to work as a sled dog for the Canadian mail.  Despite some initial difficulties, Buck adjusts quickly to his new life, and it's not long before he is top dog (so to speak).  Buck is passed around to various owners during his time as a sled dog--some foolish, some wise, some cruel, some just.  As time passes, he feels himself increasing torn between loyalty to the world of men, where he's always lived, and the inescapable allure of . . . the call of the wild.

I can't seem to figure out if this is the first book written from a dog's perspective, but if it's not, it has to be one of the first.  Jim Kjelgaard (of Big Red fame) didn't start writing until the 1940s, Lady and the Tramp wasn't released until 1955, and lesser-known dog enthusiast (and breeder of rough collies) Albert Payson Terhune didn't publish Lad: A Dog until 1919.  Even London's own White Fang wasn't published until three years after this novella.  I don't know that he invented the genre, but I suspect this book and its widespread popularity helped lay the foundation for a genre that would be beloved by animal lovers everywhere (and myself in particular).  For that reason alone this book is significant, though of course that's not the only basis for its inclusion in the category of American classics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hymns from the Land of Luther, by Jane Laurie Borthwick & Sarah Findlater (trans.)


A collection of 54 hymns translated from the German by Jane Laurie Borthwick and her sister, Sarah Findlater.

As with most of Borthwick's stuff, the theology is fairly solid and many of the hymns are quite good.  I wasn't quite as impressed by this collection as by Schaff's two volume collection. But then, Schaff included hundreds of hymns, many of which were absolute stinkers.  I have no idea what the ratio of good to bad worked out to be in those collections, but I'm guessing Borthwick's collection doesn't fare any worse.  There were no truly amazing hymns that I recall, but there weren't any utterly abysmal ones either.  I think this is the collection where Borthwick's well-known translation of "Be Still, My Soul" first appeared, though, so that's something.

The focus here is definitely on death and heaven, and there are more hymns on dying or the joys to come after death than there are on any other subject.  I'm curious as to whether that's indicative of a trend in German hymnody, or if it merely speaks to Borthwick's own interests as reflected in the hymns she selected. Granted, most hymns include a verse on the second coming or Christians' ultimate experience of victory, resurrection, and union with God, but this collection includes quite a few hymns with first lines like "Weary, Waiting to Depart", "Our Beloved Have Departed", "My God, I Know that I Must Die", and "Depart, My Child! The Lord Thy Spirit Calls".  Death was clearly on someone's mind, whether Borthwick or the German authors.  It's particularly striking to a modern reader, I think, as modern science has eradicated many of the diseases that brought about the early deaths so common in previous centuries.  Not that people don't still die, but it's no longer expected that parents would bury, on average, at least half of their children before they reached adulthood.  Between the medical progress we've made and our increasing fear of death as the ultimate evil, we really don't sing much about death, even in the church.  Which makes this an interesting read for modern Christians.

This is yet another reprint--essentially just a bound photocopy of an original edition.  The print quality is not great.  Some of the smaller print (as in the Bible references at the start of many hymns) are particularly difficult to read.  It's a shame it's not available less expensively, but if you enjoy hymn collections, this is a decent one to have.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Big Bottom Blessing: How Hating My Body Led to Loving My Life, by Teasi Cannon


A memoir of sorts, tracking the author’s struggles with obesity, self-image, and spiritual growth. I confess, I was expecting more of a how-to book—something that would offer me advice and hope in my own attempts to achieve (and maintain) a healthier weight. I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from, other than the fact that nearly all books about weight loss and “body image” are, at heart, guidebooks to the svelte figure of your dreams (or at least to the wholehearted embrace of the beauty of your body, whatever its shape). And this book is more autobiographical than instructional.  It tells me about the author’s story, but offers little to no help for my own battles with gluttony, laziness, self-indulgence, fear of man, and vanity. But now that I re-read the blurb on the back of the book, I realize that the book was billed as a memoir from the start. There’s a brief line on the back cover, telling me that her story will propel me to realize my own value and beauty, but I suspect that’s just hype from the publisher. This is her story, not yours. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle


After spending unknown hours (days? Weeks? Months?) is some sort of limbo state, deceased science fiction writer Allen Carpentier finds himself plopped down in the middle of a deserted wasteland, which he is informed is “the Vestibule of Hell.”  Carpentier is understandably skeptical, and persistently resists the assistance of his rescuer/guide, a mustachioed gentleman by the name of Benito.  Benito is intent on coaxing Carpentier into Hell (here an updated version of Dante’s nine-circle geography), in the hope that once he reaches the depths he will be able to emerge into Purgatory and thence to happier places.  Carpentier, on the other hand, would rather stay in the pain-free First Circle with the virtuous pagans than attempt the dangerous (and painful) journey deeper into Hell.  Also, Carpentier persists in his increasingly far-fetched belief that this is all some sort of hoax.  However, Carpentier agrees to accompany Benito further in, in the hopes that he can collect the supplies that would enable to build a glider he can use to re-enter the First Circle.  Along the way, Benito and Carpentier meet a host of past and future personalities and witness torment upon torment.  But will they ever make it out?  Will Carpentier succeed in making his glider?  Or will he have to join Benito in his downward trek?  And just who is Benito, anyway?  And what happens when you get to the bottom of Hell?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-Blood of the Christian, by David MacIntyre


At 128 pages, this is more booklet than book, but it's got enough substance to merit a review nonetheless.  Unlike Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, MacIntyre breaks the topic into only 8 chapters.  The opening chapter reiterates the value, importance, and difficulty of prayer.  In the second chapter, MacIntyre addresses the need for a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.  The third chapter, on directing the mind, encourages Christians to realize the presence of God, be honest, and come in faith.  The next three chapters break prayer down into 3 categories or components (worship, confession, and request), as opposed to Foster's 21.  The final two chapters tell us what effect prayer will have on our lives.

Full disclosure:  I listened to the audiobook version, which was made available free of cost at in connection with Tim Challies' selection of the book as the next entry in his Reading Classics Together series.  And I . . . did not like it.  The book is written by a Scottish preacher, and it was first published in 1913.  David Cochran Heath (the narrator) speaks with a standard American English accent, with very even pacing and not much in the way of inflection or animation.  In my experience, the audiobook market is not short on Brits, so I haven't the foggiest idea why they hired a white-bread American to read a book by a Scottish preacher.  I mean, maybe they couldn't find a Scot, but there are loads of Brits in the audiobook industry.  Instead, they opted for a nondescript American voice.  And honestly, it was jarring to hear old prose in an American accent.

The narration was simultaneously distracting and also failed to hold my attention.  I kept wandering in and out of the reading, and didn't absorb more than about a third of what MacIntyre had to offer.  I suspect the book itself is quite good and has lots of good things to day (Challies liked it, anyway).  I just didn't get all that much out of it, largely because I couldn't pay attention.  Which is on me, I grant you, but I listen to a lot of audiobooks (mostly fiction, sure, but more than a few nonfiction as well), and I don't normally struggle quite this much to focus on what's being read.

So if you're interested in checking out this book, do yourself a favor and get a print copy (or at least a Kindle version).  I fully intend to do just this when (yes, when) I re-read this book.  Plus, that way you (I) can mark up the passages you (I) like.

Oh, and the best part of the book (in my humble opinion, and based on my imperfect absorption):
“The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it!” (quoting John Laidlaw)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake


The final entry in the Gormenghast series picks up where Gormenghast left off--with young earl Titus, fresh from his hard-fought victory over Steerpike, headed off into the wilderness, leaving his family, friends, and responsibilities behind in a quest for . . . well, it's not terribly clear exactly what he's looking for, or what he hopes to accomplish.  Seeing the world, I suppose, or having some adventures before returning to the drudgery of Gormenghast.  He is able to accomplish both goals by leaving Gormenghast and promptly falling into a completely different book, peopled by a whole mess of loony characters living in a sort of futuristic, sci-fi, steampunk world.  The book pretty much goes off the rails from there --and stays off the rails, at that--though we do meet some interesting characters along the way.

This is deeply weird book.