Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
García Márquez contrasts the unexciting and monotonous familiarity of Fermina’s relationship with Dr. Urbino with the vibrant passion of her affair with Florentino. Neither relationship is portrayed as ideal, per se; there are certainly positive qualities in Fermina’s marriage to Dr. Urbino, and it’s clear that Florentino is no saint. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that there was a false dichotomy being subtly forced upon the reader: a choice between loveless and emotionally lifeless security and commitment; or tumultuous, impractical passion (with, apparently, no moral boundaries). These are the two faces of love. Which will you choose? 
The choice is a misleading one, not least because I suspect younger readers (if the novel comes their way) may come to believe that Florentino, with all his nonstop womanizing, somehow loves Fermina more than the reliable Dr. Urbino does. [...] This either/or idea fits right in with the modern romantic narrative being pitched today: Passion matters more than pragmatism; passion is what draws lovers together and keeps them there. True love is entirely free of restrictions, and any attempt to bind love with commitment or promises will do nothing but strangle that love. 
We know from Scripture that this is not the case. In the created order, commitment is the foundation of love. We see it in the first marriage, when Adam claims Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (a clear implication of lifelong union and commitment, as nothing short of death would cause him to forsake or be severed from his own body). We see it in Song of Solomon, when the Beloved expresses ardent sexual love for her Lover, while proclaiming that ‘love is strong as death.’ We see it in God’s covenant relationship with Abraham and eventually Israel; because He loves Israel, because He has chosen Israel, He commits to Israel—and keeps that commitment even in the face of continued infidelity. We see it most of all in the Gospel, where Christ sacrificed Himself on behalf of His bride the church, in order to ensure an eternal marriage with His chosen people. Christian love has passion aplenty—passion that is only enhanced and matured by commitment.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself & Live in the Security of God’s Promises, by Renee Swope

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
But the biggest reason for my disconnect with A Confident Heart is rooted not in Swope’s tone or style, but in the very problem she attempts to address. At the end of the day, I don’t know if I believe ‘self-confidence’ is actually something Christians need in the first place. Swope occasionally calls it ‘God-confidence’ in order to distinguish it from sinful pride, but she still essentially means ‘the way we think about ourselves.’ The promises she highlights talk a lot about who we are, what we will receive from God, etc. These are biblical promises, but the end goal still seems to be the change how we think about ourselves. And I’m not sure that’s helpful or necessary. Meditating on God’s promises does tell us about ourselves, but first and foremost, those promises tell us about God. And when we’re full up with faith in the character of God, I don’t think we’ll actually spend all that much mental energy on ourselves at all. I don’t think self-confidence will enter into it. Which makes sense—when I experience low ‘self-confidence’, it is not myself I am doubting, but God. I am questioning His sovereignty, His ability to work through a sinful vessel, His finished work on the cross, His goodness, His faithfulness. I don’t think there’s actually a Christian category for ‘self-doubt.’ We’re either experiencing appropriate humility about our fallen nature and our weakness apart from Christ, or we’re doubting God Himself. 
As a result, I tend to eye with skepticism any scheme with the ultimate goal of me thinking about me. Even if I’m doing it in a more biblical way, I’m still thinking about me. And I just can’t bring myself to think that should be our goal. I sincerely doubt that Paul gave himself pep-talks about self-confidence. You see a lack of self-confidence in Bible heroes when they struggle—Gideon, say, or Moses, who doubted that God could use them. They might claim to suffer from self-doubt, but really, they doubted God—doubted that He would (or could) do what He said He would. Since their doubts are not really about themselves at all, God addresses those doubts by telling them who He is. And once those doubts are assuaged, you don’t see Gideon or Moses bursting into a rousing chorus of “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music. They’re too busy talking about God. Once these folks see God aright, once they have confidence in God, their self-confidence is a non-issue. It’s beyond irrelevant. Like a cow’s opinion, it’s moo.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
In the ‘Making Of’ featurette, Whedon explains that he sees Much Ado as, essentially, a dark noir story, which makes the black-and-white film choice all the more appropriate. However, with all due respect to Mr. Whedon (and I do respect him deeply and have greatly enjoyed his previous productions), I think he’s dead wrong. Much Ado is, at its heart, a lighthearted romp. It is a classic comedy, full of humor and good cheer from start to finish: from Beatrice and Benedick’s zippy one-liners, to the farcical plot by their friends to entangle them romantically, to Dogberry’s mind-boggling incompetence, it is just fun. The worst thing that happens is a couple of misunderstandings, each of which is cleared up in a matter of hours. Yes, those misunderstandings lead to some heart-wrenching scenes, and very nearly have fatal consequences for those involved, but in the end it all works out. The villain runs off and is apprehended off-screen, and everyone lives happily ever after. Everyone is essentially good and likable except the malevolent (and ultimately ineffective) Don John and his henchmen. That’s … not really noir. At all.
Full review available here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent, by N.D. Wilson

**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
[...] Wilson’s style reminds me of nothing so much as one of those trailers from uber-hipster Rob Bell. You know the ones—full of sentences and fragments and ideas woven together to establish his point (or the question he wants to ask). If I’m being honest, part of my discomfort with the book is probably the result of this marked similarity to such a well-known and deeply troubling author. Fortunately, the similarities between Wilson and Bell begin and end at the stylistic level. As far as I can tell from this work, Wilson definitely has it on Bell in the theology department: what theology there is here seems fine. But I find Bell’s writing disturbing, and it’s difficult to read such a similar style without a certain amount of reflexive discomfort. (Then again, I will say this for Bell: I always know what his take-away point is. As unorthodox and problematic as his conclusions may be, Bell never leaves you wondering what those conclusions are.)
Full review available here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of? Facing Down Your Fears with Faith, by Dr. David Jeremiah

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
I confess, I know next to nothing about Dr. David Jeremiah. I’ve heard the name, sure, and am vaguely aware of a radio program and possibly a televised sermon. But, well, televangelism and religious radio programming being what they are, I was more than a little skeptical when I first cracked open his latest work, What Are You Afraid Of? Imagine my delight when I discovered that Dr. Jeremiah’s analysis of fear is both biblically sound and practically helpful. In fact, I was originally asked to read and respond to a single chapter, but I was so pleasantly surprised (and impressed) by the substance of the book that I went ahead and read the whole thing.
Full review available here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender that Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes, by Dr. Larry Crabb

**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
The trouble is the foundation of Crabb’s framework. Although the book purports to be based on a biblical understanding of femininity and masculinity, the primary basis for Crabb’s ideas seems to be … the sex act. Or at least the human reproductive system. Like John Eldredge before him, Crabb sees in sexual intercourse a physical picture of biblical gender roles. Actually, no. That’s not accurate. That might be ok. Crabb seems to see gender roles as a picture of sex. In other words, rather than starting with a study of Scripture as a whole in an attempt to discern its teaching on gender, he seems to start with sex and then cherry-pick the bible verses that best support his claims. 
The entirety of his argument regarding ‘biblical’ femininity seems to rest on the fact that the Hebrew word for ‘female’ is etymologically connected to the word for ‘perforated or punctured’—that is, something with holes in it. Even assuming that he’s done his homework here, and that the etymological connection is a reference to the female sex organ—that somewhere back along the line, the Hebrew term for female was essentially ‘something you nail’—those etymological connections are not an adequate basis for an entire philosophy of gender.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Children's Books and Reviews:
Cimorene is a princess who would make any feminist proud. If The Paper Bag Princess managed to avoid the temptation to bitterness and misandry, she might well have grown up to be Cimorene. Dissatisfied with her feminine lot, she persuades her father’s various retainers to teach her fencing, cooking, magic, and Latin. [...] Rather than simply complaining about the injustice of her circumstances, she rolls up her sleeves and changes them. [...] Where her sisters simper stupidly and whine when they don’t get their way, Cimorene is intelligent, innovative, hardworking, and possessed of more than her fair share of common sense. [...]
As role models go, young female readers could do a lot worse than Cimorene.
Full review available here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, by Gary Thomas

****

An excerpt from a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
[...] We know from Scripture that Christians’ bodies are ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit.’ We are not our own; we were bought with a price. It follows, therefore, that we are to honor God with our bodies. After all, everything we have—including our bodies—was entrusted to us by God for the purpose of glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. It is our chief end. But all too often we act like our purpose is to dishonor Him (or glorify ourselves), and enjoy bacon forever. Our gods are our stomachs, and we alternate between expanding them by our indulgences and making an effort to undo those indulgences and shrink them down again. We enjoy our Doritos (or our flat abs) more than we enjoy our sovereign creator who loves us and redeemed us. Like the servant entrusted with one talent, we are crummy stewards, and thereby tell the world that the Master we claim to serve really isn’t worth respecting. [...]
Full review available here

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem, by Kevin DeYoung

****

These days, it seems that 'Busy' has replaced 'Fine' as the stock answer to casual 'How are you?' inquiries. Everyone we know is busy busy busy, and we ourselves are no exception. But how should we as Christians think about our hectic and sometimes over-scheduled lives? Is our frantic pace a good thing--an indicator of our dedication to Kingdom Matters? Or is it a bad thing--a failure to 'Be still and know that I am God'? What of the spiritual reality behind our perpetual busyness? What's really going on when we're so all-fired busy all the time?

Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung takes on these questions, and many more, in his new book Crazy Busy. As the longish subtitle indicates, the book is no tome: it clocks in at around 120 pages in paperback format, or right around 3 hours if you opt for the audiobook version, as I did. In other words, you should have time to read (or listen to) this book, even if it's only in short increments while running errands, exercising, or while on the throne. DeYoung writes concisely and clearly, and the audiobook narration makes it easy to listen to and absorb. (DeYoung's voice is not quite as universally familiar as, say, John Piper or Mark Driscoll or even David Platt or Matt Chandler, so the shock of hearing his words read by someone else is much less jarring here.) However, as with any audiobook, retention can be a problem--you can't just underline particularly convicting or helpful passages (of which there are many) for future reference.

Monday, September 23, 2013

To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain, by Matt Chandler

**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Near as I can figure, this ‘new’ book is really just his 2009 Philippians video/DVD sessions (with accompanying study guide) repackaged in book format. I don’t know why it’s been repackaged as a book, but then I guess it doesn’t hurt to put out another gospel-oriented book on Philippians. 
Chandler is at his best when he describes real-life anecdotes applying the truths he’s learned—specifically, the health struggles endured by himself and his family. Discussions of ‘rejoicing in all circumstances’ really gain credibility when the author relates, for example, the horror of watching an ambulance speed off to an unknown hospital, his seizing infant son and worried wife inside. His discussion of his own harrowing and spiritually challenging experiences resonated with me a lot more than his attempts to ‘fill in’ the narrative details of biblical stories.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

UP (2009)

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
The lessons of UP are of particular moment in our modern culture. To the young—the self-obsessed younger generations who are absolutely convinced that we in our wisdom have finally figured out the answers to the world’s problems, and who dismiss the elderly as irrelevant and inconvenient obstacles in the way of all the wonderful changes we mean to effect—to us, UP encourages us to value and respect our elders, to benefit from their wisdom, to cultivate and appreciate their love and affection, and to empathize with the sorrows the joys they’ve experienced (even when those experiences predate our own by several decades). To the elderly, UP offers a challenge not to let love of (or disappointment in) the past prevent us from investing in the lives of others today so that they may live lives that honor God tomorrow and for years to come. And to childless and widowed men (and women) in the church, UP serves as a reminder that we live in a world full of fatherless children. Some may have been physically orphaned or abandoned, but many who have fathers in the nominal sense may be lacking a fully present father-figure to love them, to teach them the gospel truths they so desperately need—someone to model for them what it means to be a godly man today (Titus 2:2). UP and the Bible are in agreement on these matters: When the young respect and care for their elders and the elderly instruct the young in the Lord and invest in them, everybody wins (Prov. 17:6).
Full review available here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After, by Trevin Wax

**

Would-be church-planter Chris Walker is having a crisis of faith. The recent discovery of his estranged father's repeated infidelity has left him reeling. Between his father's hypocrisy and his own conflicting ideas of truth, religion, and morality, Chris doesn't know where to turn. Before he knows it, he's broken off his engagement to Ashley and is considering backing out of the church plant he's been involved with. Then, on New Year's weekend, he finds himself on the doorstep of his recently bereaved grandfather, a retired Baptist minister currently recovering from a stroke. Over the course of their many conversations, Chris begins to work through his doubts and questions about faith, truth, sin, and forgiveness.

For some time now, I've enjoyed reading Trevin Wax's posts on the Gospel Coalition blog. So when the opportunity arose to review his new work of fiction, Clear Winter Nights, I was pretty stoked. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Christian fiction, good theology does not always walk hand in hand with good storytelling.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
The curse of obedience is represented as a violation—Ella is being forced to do things, and this interferes with the autonomy that is so highly valued in modern day America (well, in America pretty much on down the line). And indeed, this independence dovetails nicely with the religious idea of ‘free will.’ How do you explain the existence of evil in the world? ‘God didn’t want a bunch of automatons; He had to leave people free to choose sin, and some of them do. What can you do?’ How about salvation? ‘God gives us a choice whether to follow Him; if He interfered with or influenced our choice, then we would be mindless slaves.’ The idea of a bunch of puppet-people walking around following orders whether they want to or not is revolting to us; free will is the only acceptable alternative. [...] 
This idea of autonomy and freedom of thought stands in striking contrast to the Biblical teaching on free will. In The Freedom of the Will (which Coyle Neal blogged about recently), theologian Jonathan Edwards argues, quite persuasively, that our ‘will’ is at the mercy of our ‘desires’—that we can only will what we want. This makes a lot of sense—I may be physically free to choose between, say, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a slug-and-cat-hair sandwich, but if there’s nothing in me that wantsthe slug-and-cat-hair sandwich, then my ‘freedom’ to choose it is of little use to me. Functionally, I am only free to choose the things that are, in some sense, desirable to me.
Full review available here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye: The World's Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible's Ultimate Mysteries, by Len Bailey

**

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye, by Len Bailey: In which Jesus (code name: K2L2, for 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords') hires Sherlock Holmes to 'investigate' various biblical mysteries. By time-traveling him to Bible times via a doodad called 'the needle's eye', which Holmes built using schematics he stole from Professor Moriarty. See, Moriarty wanted to travel at the speed of light (for nefarious purposes), which is obviously impossible. Instead, the whatsit he invented enables the user to travel back in time. Holmes and Watson explore and resolve various 'conundrums', thereby demolishing many of Holmes' objections to religion and faith.

How could I not read this book? Sherlock Holmes solving Bible mysteries? Yes, please! After all, who among us hasn't lost sleep wondering why Ahitophel hanged himself? Or trying to resolve the apparent discrepancy between the Old and New Testamment references to Zechariah, son of Berechiah, and Zechariah, son of Jehoida? Or why Jehoiachin is included in Jesus' genealogy? Nail-biters, one and all.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
However, American Gods demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of religion. Not all religions are man-made. There is a God who is not made by human hands—in fact, He made man … and everything else. (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 96:4-5; John 1:1-3; I Cor. 8:5-6) [...] He doesn’t get tired (Is. 40:28), and unlike other ‘gods’, He lives eternally (Jer. 10:11-16). [...] He has power over life and death, and nothing and no one compares to Him (Deut. 34:37-39)—certainly not some man-made idol (Is. 40:12-20). In fact, the other ‘gods’, such as they are, are commanded to worship Him (Ps. 97:7, 9). 
This God is no figment of human imagination (Acts 17:29). And while He desires—and deserves—our worship, He certainly doesn’t need it (Acts 17:24-25). We can no more harm or weaken Him by withholding our worship than, well, a tiny ant can hurt our feelings by making funny faces at us. It’s absurd. He is supremely powerful, supremely self-sufficient, and, more than that, He’s supremely sovereign (Ps. 115:3). Which means that our refusal to honor Him will itself be used to bring Him more glory (Ex. 14:4). 
[...] Where Mr. Wednesday and his fellow gods are willing to steal, cheat, lie, and kill in order to win the worship they crave, God never lies (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). [...] And unlike the selfish, callous, manipulative Mr. Wednesday, God is so perfectly loving that He is love. In fact, He’s the source of love—the only reason we even know what love is is because of God (I John 4:7-19).
Full review available here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Camelot has come to be associated with ideas of potential, hope, and promise, but in T.H. White’s book, it’s an even more striking picture of the depravity of man. [...] 
Arthur: “I will impregnate my half sister (it’s a long story—there was witchcraft) and then ineffectually arrange for the murder of the resulting bastard child. I will also devote my life to becoming a staunch advocate for justice and no respecter of persons, except when the person in question is one of my knights, in which case I’ll totally overlook minor infractions like the slaughter of innocents. Oh, and despite Merlin’s explicit warning about my wife and BFF hooking up (and the resulting downfall of my kingdom), I will turn a blind eye to their affair and instead adopt the tried-and-true ‘La la la I can’t hear you’ approach.” 
Other knights: “We will constantly lose our tempers, go off half-cocked, and/or avenge various wrongs (real or imagined) by murdering women, bystanders, and other knights, then apologize to Arthur, who will pardon us as long as we promise not to let it happen again. Then we will totally let it happen again. Also, the only one of us who is remotely virtuous will act like a sanctimonious and self-righteous jerk who is too busy being ‘holy’ to ever actually care about another human being.” [...] 
Some utopia you’ve got there, Arthur. Yessirree.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Columbo (Series)

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
People take one look at the raincoat and the car, at the unprepossessing manner, and decide that Columbo is not worthy of their respect. He endures snide remarks by the boatload. The wealthy and powerful individuals involved in his cases demean him to his superiors and try to have him thrown off the case. They laugh at him to his face, and they talk to him like he’s five years old.

And how does he respond? He accepts their condescending suggestions and reprimands with humility—sometimes he even seems grateful. He is unfailingly polite and courteous, even in the face of rudeness, anger, and spite. He often acquiesces in the criticisms of others, and laughs along at jokes made at his expense, even though they are none-too-kindly meant. And it’s not because he’s oblivious to their scorn. He knows exactly what they think of him, and it doesn’t seem to bother him one particle. [...]

I wish I could say the same thing about myself. 
Full review available here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Classic literature doesn’t offer much in the way of strong, single, unattractive heroines. If you’re a reader, it’s ridiculously easy to become persuaded that only attractive people matter—that they’re the only ones who get to have stories. Unattractive people are relegated to the sidelines. And a single woman, well, she’s just a problem to be solved. Elizabeth Bennet is witty and charming and attractive, so she gets a (fantastic) book and ends up with one of the Catches of All Time. Juliet’s story doesn’t end well, it’s true, but it’s highly regarded as a romantic classic—and she was no dog. Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Emma …these are stories about attractive women. Then there’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (it’s right there in the name), Snow White … even biblical matriarchs, such as they are, skew hot—look at Sarah, Rachel, and Rebecca. Sure, Jane Eyre is no looker (and I love her for that), but even she winds up paired up with the gruff Mr. Rochester. And the unfortunate Leah, though unloved, still gets married. Only tragedies end with single heroines still single. Happily-ever-afters require marriage (or at least romance). [...]

But in the face of countless, gorgeous Disney princesses and their (admittedly dull-as-toast) Prince Charmings, it is crazy easy to believe that if you are not a) a knockout, and b) married, then you either don’t get a story, or your story is incomplete until you acquire both these things. You are incomplete until you acquire both these things.

Which is why I love The Woman in White’s Marian.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monsters University (2013)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
We want the truth to be that anyone can do anything, that if you just set your mind on it and work hard enough, you can achieve your dream. But that’s not the real world. We have limitations. The world is full of little boys who wanted to play basketball like Michael Jordan. Many of them worked really, really hard at it. But to date, no one has pulled it off. If we tell them that anything is possible, that they can make their dream a reality, then how do they explain their failure? After all, failure is not always a function of ‘not working hard enough’. If insurmountable limitations exist, hard work, though morally beneficial, is just a hamster wheel to nowhere. Some dreams are beyond our power to achieve. That is life. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, ‘playing basketball like Michael Jordan’ isn’t the only worthwhile goal in the world. As children, we’re drawn to extreme goals—be the best, the brightest, the first. But these kinds of tasks fall to a very few individuals, and the majority of kids (even your kids), will never be the best at anything. And that is ok. There is no shame in merely being good, being bright, loving your friends and family, and working hard, even if you never win a gold medal for any of it.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Epic (2013)

**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
In a post Occupy Wall Street world, we’re used to hearing about the 99%, used to hearing about how those rich jerks owe it to us poor schlubs of the world to help us out and spread the wealth. We hear community touted right and left, but it is a community of entitlement. Community means I deserve. I am owed. I am entitled … to a house or a car or a bigger chunk of my neighbor’s paycheck. I have rights, and heaven help anyone who tries to take them away or infringe on them in any way. Community, in America, seems to be about what we can get
Not so in … Leafy-town or wherever it is that the story takes place. Here, the mantra is ‘Many leaves, one tree.’ As Captain Ronin explains it, this kind of community is one of service. America, with its ‘take take take’ attitude, has the community stick by the entitlement end. Ronin and his fellow Leaf-Men, by seeking to serve others, have figured out what we are still struggling to understand.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Comforts from Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

***

Counselor and author Elyse Fitzpatrick's devotional study of the book of Romans. The book is broken up into 32 daily meditations, each under 10 minutes, as well as an introduction and appendices. Fitzpatrick's focus is on, well, the Gospel--specifically, the finished work of Christ on the cross. In fact, she focuses so much on Christ's finished work that she winds up sounding (at least to this recovering legalist) borderline antinomian. Not explicitly antinomian, mind you--she is adamant that the completeness of Christ's work in freeing us from the law should not result in lawlessness. But she is clearly focused on undoing the evils of legalism and salvation by works, the earning of God's favor by our own efforts. And good on her for taking that bull by the horns. But as someone who is all to willing to tolerate my own sin, I know I need a good kick in the pants and a healthy dose of teaching on how to fight the sin from which I have been set free.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World, by Sinclair B. Ferguson

****

The inimitable Sinclair Ferguson takes on the Greatest Sermon of All Time. Obviously, the result is well worth reading.

I came to the book having read and, nor the most part, enjoyed several other books on the subject, including Charles Spurgeon's God Will Bless You, Puritan Thomas Watson's The Beatitudes, and Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. I think Ferguson's is my favorite so far.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices, by Chris Brauns

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
In this fascinating, insightful, and well-written book (which I highly recommend), author and pastor Chris Brauns explores the corporate nature of life and faith—that is, the connectedness between and among people whereby we are, well, ‘bound together’ in what Brauns calls ‘the rope principle.’ 
This principle rang chillingly true as I read this book against the tragic backdrop of the Boston bombings. If there is a clearer picture of our vulnerability to the aftermath of others’ choices, I don’t know what it could be. An unhinged terrorist plants bombs in the midst of unsuspecting citizens—he makes a choice, and despite any claim to autonomy or independence, others suffer the consequences. Lives are ripped apart—many lives—because of someone else’s choice. 
As much as we want to only be judged, only be punished, or only be rewarded for the actions we ourselves have taken or the choices we ourselves have made, the fact remains that we are all connected.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the True High Without Putting People Down, by Joshua Harris

****

Why are all the truly orthodox Christians--the doctrinally minded, theologically sound ones--complete jerks? Why are nice, loving Christians typically wishy-washier than Charlie Brown? Is there a way to love your neighbor and love truth, to uphold good teaching without being an arrogant ass? According to Joshua Harris, the two qualities--humility and orthodoxy--not only can be combined, but should be.

Clocking in at just over 50 pages (not counting the study guide and other extra material), Humble Orthodoxy is an expansion of a chapter from Joshua Harris's recent (and much longer) book, Dug Down Deep. Apparently lots of folks (including John Piper) told him that this topic needed its own book. Who am I to disagree?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World, by Melissa B. Kruger

*****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
For Kruger, the root of covetousness is, quite simply, unbelief. This is a truth that I am discovering on a regular basis—that my besetting sins result not from a lack of effort (alone), nor from a lack of ability, nor from any other more physical shortcoming: they result from a lack in my faith. When I sin, it is a clear sign that there is some piece of the Gospel that I do not believe, some characteristic of God and His work that I ignore or deny. 
In the case of covetousness, Kruger argues that the root unbelief is three-fold: unbelief in the character of God (specifically His sovereignty and goodness), unbelief in our purpose (that we were created to be in relationship with and glorify God and to be with Him for all eternity), and unbelief in our relationships. If these are the root cause of envy, it follows that the remedy is to increase our belief that God is in fact both good and sovereign, that our relationship with Him matters more than (and will outlast) our circumstances, that He will bring glory to Himself through those circumstances, that He knows which circumstances will maximize our sanctification and long-term joy, and that we can therefore celebrate the blessings received by others. Preach it, sister.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
“In the beginning,” Nicodemus recalls, “we were ordinary street rats, stealing our daily bread and living off the efforts of man’s work.” Since that time, they have been given the gift of intelligence, received at the hands of the men of NIMH. But with that intelligence came the awareness that certain actions, even if beneficial to the actor, are wrong. As long as the rats continue to steal, they will only ever be smart rats. If they want to be something more, something nobler, they must be not merely intelligent but moral. It is not intelligence or self-awareness that makes a man, but honor and integrity and right living—using that intelligence to learn about and conform to morality. Nicodemus wants to lead the rats to a new, moral life, where they live not as the rats they were, but as the men they can be. 
Jenner, on the other hand, is more than happy to use his intelligence for his own self-interest with no regard for right, wrong, or the interests of others. He is happy to continue stealing from Farmer Fitzgibbons as long as it benefits him, and is even willing to escalate to murder if anyone stands in the way of those benefits. His intelligence thus functions as little more than a kind of elevated animal cunning, and he remains a rat. Because the intelligence of Nicodemus and his followers leads to moral knowledge, and because they submit their intelligence to conscience and in fact put it to work for conscience, they become something more than rats. They are men.
Full review available here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Inner Society, by Melinda Louise Bohannon

***

Social outcast Maggie Kraus is a total fish-out-of-water at exclusive Norfolk High. (Don't ask why she has to go to the swanky school. The plot dictates that she attend, so attend she must.) But the students at Norfolk are more than ordinarily hostile to the (ok, also hostile) Maggie. Like, to the point of inflicting serious physical harm upon the person of those not considered 'worthy' of their awesome school. Rich, powerful, and above suspicion, the 'in' teens are uniformly intelligent, athletic, and unbelievably attractive. They are also cruel jerks ... all except Peter and his super awesome youth group friends (who are still super attractive, rich, etc., but also nice). Can Peter and company help Maggie unearth the horrible secret behind Norfolk's elite Inner Society? (Oh, yeah, by the way, there's a horrible secret behind Norfolk's elite Inner Society. In case you were wondering.)

Ok, here's the thing. I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review. I am not required to write a positive review. Which ... is a good thing, for reasons I'll go into in a minute. See, this is not a good book. I feel kind of bad saying so, because Bohannon sounds like a very nice lady and apparently works a lot with troubled teens, and I'm sure this book was a labor of love. But ... it is a ridiculous, kind of terrible book. But in the best possible way. I could not put it down. It was a train wreck in book form, only much, much funnier. And more enjoyable. Because as terrible as this book is, I had an absolute blast reading it. I plowed through it record time, largely because I could not wait to see what craziness happened next.

I think the easiest way for me to explain the awesome/awfulness of this book is to share with you some of my reactions while reading it. Apologies for the length. Here goes nothing [WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS].

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, by Jeff Shinabarger

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Fourth, Shinabarger’s analysis of generosity is secular—by which I mean: a compassionate Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, or atheist could agree with … everything in this book. I find this troubling. While it is certainly true that those outside the faith can be generous and do good things, Christians’ lives should be pervaded by the Gospel such that it is impossible for us to really explain why we do any good thing without reference to Christ the Source of All Good. Christ is the reason we can do good things, He is the reason our sinful hearts want to do good things, and His is the power that enables us to do good things. Yet Shinabarger’s exploration of generosity seemed to be, well, largely secular. Faith lifts right out without disturbing the substance of his points. 
For these reasons, I would argue that Shinabarger’s book, while practically useful, is not actually a Christian book. So if you’re looking to simplify, make do with less, or give more, then by all means read this book. Even better, read it with a friend and engage with the material. Open your Bible and see where Shinabarger is right, and where he’s wrong. What does the Bible have to say about generosity? What sins in your life keep you from obeying those commands, and how can you fight those sins? How does the Gospel inform our attitude toward our possessions, our food, our clothes, and our time? How can Christians spur one another on to love and good deeds in these areas? These questions, and many more, are well worth asking. Shinabarger doesn’t ask them, but I appreciate him at least starting the conversation.
Full review available here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table (With Recipes), by Shauna Niequist

***

A defense of messy hospitality--of honest friendship, transparent love, and lots and lots of delicious food.

At the back of this book, author Shauna Niequist lists some of her favorite writers, including bestselling author Anne Lamott and author, former New York Times restaurant critic, former Gourmet editor, and reality TV show judge (!!!) Ruth Reichl. I'm not surprised. Their influence is clear. If Ruth Reichl and Anne Lamott had a less-talented baby, and that baby wrote a book, this could be that book. That's not a dig, either--Lamott and Reichl are incredibly skilled writers; to be described as less talented than these ladies is no insult. Niequist does not rise to their level, it's true, but she writes in that tradition, and as she has a pleasant--and occasionally charming--style, the book is, by and large, an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jurassic Park 3D (2013)


****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Man, I forgot how much fun this movie is. 
I don’t think I ever actually saw it in theatres. Twenty years ago (yes, it really has been 20 years), I was … ok, not that young, but still young enough that I think my folks may have had misgivings about letting me see a dude get ate up by a T. Rex on the big screen. Sure, I saw re-runs on cable, but there’s no doubt that Jurassic Park is one of those precious few films that really deserve to be seen on a 50+ foot screen. I am supremely grateful to Universal Pictures for giving the chance to rectify this tragically missed opportunity. 
If you haven’t yet seen Jurassic Park on the big screen, go see it. Now. 
If you have seen Jurassic Park on the big screen, go see it now anyway. It’s been 20 years, and you probably forgot how awesome it is. You may think you remember, but you don’t. Besides, this time it’s in 3D, and if you thought the dinosaurs were scary before … well, you’re in for a treat. I almost kicked the guy in front of me, is what I’m saying. Thank goodness I didn’t have popcorn in my lap, or I would have been wearing it. 
Full review available here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe, by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Indeed, both men are extremely open and frank about the sin issues they confronted—so much so that Kluck, at least, sounds at times like, well, kind of a jerk. But then, I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. All Christians are jerks at one time or another, and a book written exclusively for non-jerks would be of extremely limited use. So I applaud the transparency with which Kluck and Martin discuss their sin, even though I was slightly discomfited in reading about it. (Honestly, I think some of the ‘jerk factor’ was a simple result of writing ‘too soon’. Given more time and distance and the benefit of additional reflection and processing, I don’t think Kluck would have included, say, the full text of the rather unpleasant letter he wrote to the adoptive parents who ‘stole’ the kid he and his wife planned to adopt. I also think Kluck would omit the detailed account of the book contract he was denied. I suspect he would focus more on his own pain and disappointment and less on the perceived wrongs committed by others. At the very least, there would have been less heat behind his words. Though I suppose there may be some merit to writing in the midst of the pain—it certainly gives the hurting reader something to relate to.)
Full review available here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Domination (C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy #3), by Jon S. Lewis

***

Colt McAlister and company continue to battle the forces of evil, personified here (as elsewhere in the trilogy) as shape-shifting aliens with nefarious and deadly plans for planet earth. See, portals keep opening up to allow these six-armed 'Thule' and their ships to cross over to earth from ... whatever crummy planet they currently call home. Wherever the Thule appear, they leave a swath of death and destruction in their wake. Humankind is woefully outgunned, despite the efforts of the super secret C.H.A.O.S. military academy and its crackerjack cadets, of both the human and (friendly) alien variety. Colt and his squad know the odds are against them,but they refuse to give up hope and are determined to put and end to this portal business--and these walking, talking, mind-reading, shape-shifting monsters--once and for all. But Colt is wrestling with an internal demon of his own ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fortress of Mist (Merlin's Immortals #2), by Sigmund Brouwer

**

After successfully (and bloodlessly) taking the city of Magnus in The Orphan King, young Thomas quickly learns that keeping a kingdom can be just as much of a challenge as acquiring one. Thomas finds himself up to his neck in political maneuvering, as the King demands his assistance in the ongoing war with the Scots, and treasonous spies try to incite the neighboring lords against him. Meanwhile, Thomas is plagued by seeming visions of the lovely (and supposedly dead) Isabelle. But it is Katherine, the kind, fire-scarred girl, who Thomas most wishes to see. Both women are drawn to Thomas, and both seek Thomas's allegiance (and his inherited collection of mystical books) for a powerful force: the Druids, who control so much of the land, and those who would oppose them. Will Thomas be able to hold Magnus in the face of these challenges? Will he align himself with the Druids, who offer limitless power and immortality? Will he side with their opponents? Or will he forge a separate path?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone wants to be a movie about friendship, but it isn’t. Yes, Burt and Anton part ways, and yes, their reunion is touching, but during their separation, Burt doesn’t seem to miss Anton in the slightest. Rather, Burt’s journey, such as it is, is one of rediscovery. He has lost his first love—magic, and the sense of awe and wonder and delight that it brings. What was once a thing of joy and excitement has become rote. In his quest to enjoy all the things that magic brought him—money, fame, sex—he has forgotten the magic itself. 
As I watched the film, I was reminded of Christ’s admonition of the church at Ephesus. After all, anyone who’s been a Christian for more than a few years knows that, as with most life experience, the buzz tends to fade. We start off so full of wonder and delight—the God of the universe loves me and sent His Son to die in my place for my sins! Hallelujah! What a Savior! 
But as the years pass, so too does our irrepressible joy in the Gospel. We become so focused on the blessings we have received that we forget the One from whose hand we have received them. Our faith can seem, well, ‘old hat.’ Gradually, the wondrous things God in Christ has done—and continues to do—in us and for us begin to seem slightly less wondrous. Like Burt, we forget why we do what we do.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart, by Kyle Idleman

***

I had never heard of Kyle Idleman until I read Tim Challies' review of his recent bestseller Not a Fan. Challies had some very positive things to say about the book, but ended his review with three concerns: 1) Idleman relied overmuch on humor and pop culture references; 2) Idleman occasionally employed questionable exegesis; 3) Idleman seems to imply that sanctification is accomplished through effort. I expect Challies, if he were to review this latest book, would find himself repeating his earlier concerns.

But first a bit about the book. It is, as you might expect from the title, a discussion of modern-day idolatry. Idleman argues, quite rightly, that at the root of every sin is the sin of idolatry--the elevation of something else above God. He is quick to admit that the various 'gods' we serve are often not bad things in and of themselves; it is only our worship of them that is sinful. He groups these idols into three categories: pleasure (food, sex, and entertainment), power (success, money, and achievement), and love (romance, family, and self). He does a decent job of explaining our modern fascination with these 'gods', though I think a more nuanced discussion of the 'god' of self would have been helpful. And fear of man, though related to success and achievement, is prevalent enough to merit its own separate discussion--the 'god' of reputation, perhaps, or popularity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
I have not seen the TV spots and trailers for Jack the Giant Slayer, but I’m told that they were … not good. Allow me to assure you that the movie is nowhere near as bad as the marketing would apparently suggest. In fact, it’s actually quite good. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Sure, it’s chock full of laughably CGI’d giants and a soundtrack that desperately wants to be mistaken for The Lord of the Rings, but it’s fun, darn it! There are some good one-liners along the way, the action sequences are fairly creative, and the casting is above-average for this sort of flick. Nicholas Hoult has grown up quite a bit since I last saw him in About a Boy (2002), and his wide-eyed, dreamy vibe is a good fit for the head-in-the-clouds Jack (who spends most of the film clad in what looks suspiciously like a hoodie, tee shirt, and jeans). Eleanor Tomlinson is likewise a good fit for Princess Isabelle—appropriately spunky, lovely enough to warrant Jack’s immediate infatuation, and intelligent enough to know an unlikely hero when she sees one. Ian McShane sheds his bad-guy persona in favor of an old-fashioned but genuinely affectionate father (though I admit it’s rather jarring to hear him deliver any line that’s not punctuated by pungent profanity). Bill Nighy does excellent voice work as Fallon, the leader of the giants (though I wish the CGI team had made more use of his face, and not just his voice). Stanley Tucci is positively delicious as the eeeevil Lord Roderick—though he should really shave the beard so as to maximize his mustache-twirling potential. But for my money, the real star of the picture is Ewan McGregor as the sprightly and stalwart captain of the guard, Elmont. He exudes that quintessentially British brand of courage, all bright cheerfulness and unshakable loyalty and unflappable sangfroid. I can’t remember Ewan McGregor ever being so likable. He was a delight to watch—and I’m not usually a big Ewan McGregor fan.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Mummy (1932)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
The narrative here, like that of many monster stories, is at its heart a romantic one: Once upon a time, Priest Imhotep loved Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. When death separated them, Imhotep was so desperate to be with her again that he acted in deliberate rebellion against the gods he previously served by stealing the Scroll of Thoth in order to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back to life so they could be together. He chose human love over faith. 
Imhotep was caught in the act and, as punishment for his transgression, he was buried alive in complete mummy regalia. Now, having been accidentally resurrected by the nitwitted archaeologist’s assistant, Imhotep picks up where he left off, searching for his long lost love, whose soul apparently resides in her modern day ancestor, the young Helen Grosvenor. Along the way, Imhotep is perfectly willing to kill anyone who gets in his way. His ‘love’ for Ankh-es-en-amon results in disrespect—and violence—toward others. 
Then, it turns out that the final step in his long-planned reunion with Ankh-es-en-amon is Helen’s death—only by killing the body where the soul of Ankh-es-en-amon dwells can she be freed to be with Imhotep forever. This plan doesn’t seem to go over too well with Helen (or, it is implied, Ankh-es-en-amon), but that doesn’t stop Imhotep. What she wants doesn’t matter. His ‘love’ for Ankh-es-en-amon overrides all other considerations. He ‘loves’ her so much that he is willing to kill her—against her will—to be with her.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
To children, A Good Day to Die Hard offers the simple reminder that parents are fallible. They screw up. They miss out on stuff you wish they’d been around for, and they make all sorts of mistakes that drive you bonkers and, in some cases, cause you serious emotional pain. But at the end of the day, even loving parents get it wrong sometimes. Most goofs were probably more the result of boneheaded thinking and normal human error than of any actual malice or a desire to ruin your life. That doesn’t mean that what they did (or didn’t do) was ok. But at some point, you have to let go, accept them for who they are, and recognize their overtures of affection for what they are—even if said overtures involve offering to help you kill some Russian bad guys. [...] 
To parents, Good Day to Die Hard offers a modern day action retelling of Harry Chapin’s classic hit ‘Cat’s in the Cradle.’ If you prioritize outside activities over family, you pay a very real relational cost. Granted, we’d all be terribly disappointed if John McClane was too busy being a good dad to save Nakatomi Plaza from terrorists thieves, or save Dulles from whoever that psycho general guy was, or save New York from Jeremy Irons or save Lucy McClane from a less-than-terrifying Timothy Olyphant. Saving the day makes for great movies. It may not make for great families.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Quiet, by Susan Cain (a guest post)

****

Last year, I reviewed Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. And I loved it. So when I was presented with a second opportunity to review the book, I recruited my husband to read it and share his thoughts. The book is also the subject of the Book Club over at Patheos, where we both contribute to Schaeffer's Ghost, an Evangelical commentary on books and film. Here's an excerpt of his review:

###
I think part of the problem here is one of categorization. When thinking in terms of Christianity, the absolute categorization of either an introvert ideal or an extrovert ideal falls flat. This is because there is both an introverted and an extroverted component to the Gospel. 
On the one hand, Christians ought to be extroverted. This is true not only because we are expected (even commanded) to engage with others in sharing the Gospel, but also because the very foundation of our faith is someone external to us coming along, dragging us out of ourselves (it’s even more violent than that—the Bible uses the language of putting the old person to death) and planting us firmly in a non-optional relationship with another person (Jesus) and a group of other people (the church). In a very real sense, there is no ‘alone time’ for the Christian—something which no doubt causes many introverts to shudder in panic. In this sense, the Gospel has a quite necessary extroverted component. 
On the other hand, Christians ought to be introverted. We are responsible for our own spiritual lives—the commands to be holy and fight against sin are not Biblical charges to take up political crusades against institutional evil. They are rather directions for examining our interior lives and casting off those aspects of ourselves which continue to persist in rebellion against God. And of course part of this process is being slower to speak, being aware of our own sinful nature, and being on guard against allowing that sinful aspect of ourselves to take control of our tongue and actions (in one sense, the serpent in the Garden was the chief of extroverts—he projected his personality onto others in an attempt to remake them in his own image). Likewise, quiet meditation on Scripture, solitary prayer, and reflection should all increasingly be aspects of the Christian life. In this sense, the Gospel has a quite necessary introverted component as well.
Full review available here.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are?, by Mark Driscoll (a guest post)

****

My husband and I both read this book, the latest from Mark Driscoll, and while I liked it fine, he (as a philosopher and longtime Driscoll fan) appreciated it much more and had far more insightful things to say about it. So I let him write the review. You'll thank me later, I promise.  Here's an excerpt:

###
Mark Driscoll may not know it (or heck, maybe he does), but when he wrote a book about searching for personal identity he stepped directly into one of the fundamental philosophical questions of the 20th century: who am I? When philosophers pitch this question, “identity” is usually paired with some form of the word “authenticity.” The idea is that we should be searching for our identity not as society or culture has shaped it, but as it actually, authentically is when all external factors are stripped away. We should look deep down within ourselves to find out who we are most fundamentally by nature. Think this sounds easy? Not according to Heidegger, Marcuse, Camus, Sartre, or even the Christian response to these thinkers by Francis Schaeffer (to say nothing of the legion of other philosophers who have tackled this issue). 
Mark Driscoll’s contribution to this discussion comes not from a philosophical perspective, but rather from an exegetical one. Who Do You Think You Are? is an exposition of the book of Ephesians that engages the question of personal identity. 
The full review is available on Schaeffer's Ghost (a Patheos blog) here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

***

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
But that’s not how the world really works. I am not the hero. That role has already been filled. The whole universe and everyone in it from the dawn of time to the end of ages are merely bit players in a story about Someone Else. My life matters because of what it says about Him. He’s the main character. He did the saving. My contribution was, well, getting myself into a big, rotten, stinking mess. His contribution was reaching down into the mire to save my sorry soul. Every teensy bit of progress I’ve experienced in my life is the result of His work. He fights sin in my life; my efforts are the palest imitation of His effectual acts. I’m not the hero. I’m not an ‘actor’. Heck, I’m not even a supporting actor—best case scenario, I’m an uncredited extra. If I were to be nominated for an Oscar for my performance, it would be for something like ‘Woman at restaurant’ or ‘Girl carrying books.’ I’m so far from being the center of the story that it’s laughable.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Anger Workbook, by Les Carter and Frank Minirth


**

An excerpt of a review recently posted on The Mortal Coyle:
[...] Minirth and Carter present their biblical principles as, essentially, a list of dos and don’ts. A set of laws, if you will. God is mentioned, and Christ, but as a source of strength and a good example, respectively. The gospel, though occasionally (and obliquely) hinted at, is never clearly presented, nor is it used as the central spring from which godly behavior flows. Instead, religion is reduced to merely a ‘part’ of the whole man that must be adequately addressed to ensure wholeness. You won’t be well-rounded and healthy until you address the ‘spiritual’ side of your life, and the guidance provided by Scripture should be followed because it’s good advice. 
So forgiveness is recommended not because Christ in His infinite mercy purchased forgiveness for us at great cost to himself, but because forgiving people makes us feel better (and withholding forgiveness is bad for our own development). Don’t get me wrong—forgiveness is better for us, but that’s not the ultimate reason why we are called to forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven, and nothing anyone can do to us could ever match the sin we’ve committed against a holy God. 
But then, when Minirth and Carter talk about the sin nature and Adam’s fall, there is never any sense of the horror of sin—of anger as a sin against the very nature of God, something loathsome and reprehensible and deserving of wrath. Anger seems to be more of an ‘oopsie’, something we really should work on in order to improve ourselves and our relationship (again, partly true). So I guess it makes sense that their portrayal of forgiveness is so off-kilter. If all we’ve been forgiven is a character flaw, then that forgiveness can’t really motivate us to forgive the real and tangible wrongs we endure at the hands of others, and we need to look elsewhere for motivation.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie

***

"A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30pm." So reads the notice in the Gazette. The denizens of Chipping Cleghorn are agog, and they turn out in force to Little Paddocks to see what may be seen. The appointed hour comes and goes, and sure enough, there is a corpse on the floor of the quaint English cottage known as Little Paddocks: the body of an apparent house-breaker, shot through the heart, his pistol beside him. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Fortunately, Miss Marple happens to be in town and lends her prodigious skill to the police, who are--frankly--baffled. But the house-breaker is not the last fatality in Chipping Cleghorn. Before long, there are more mysterious deaths. But who could have done it? The whole town is peopled with nice old ladies, a few young people, a war widow ... not exactly prime murder suspects. But Miss Marple had better figure out what happened, and fast--the residents of Chipping Cleghorn are dropping like flies ...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Sacred Search: What If It's Not About Who You Marry, But Why?, by Gary Thomas

****

An excerpt of a review recently posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
I’ve read a lot of marriage books. Not all of them, mind you, or even most of them. But as someone who tends to believe that there is no obstacle you can’t study your way over and no problem you can’t think your way out of, I have devoured marriage books like a chubby kid eats cookies the day before fat camp. The results of this literary quest have been middlin’ at best. There have been some winners, to be sure, but I’ve been disappointed far more often than I’ve been impressed. I’ve managed to avoid many of the less- sound books (theologically speaking), but even the ‘good’ ones tend to be poorly written, overly chummy in tone, or downright unsettling. (Also, it turns out that reading books on marriage, even good books on marriage, doesn’t necessarily make you awesome at being married. Apparently there’s more to it than just reading.) 
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Gary Thomas is not only a decent writer (would that more Christian authors could make such a claim!), but also that his theology of marriage and the resulting advice were quite solid.
Full review available here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Premium Rush (2012)

***

Wilee loves his job as a bike messenger. He rides his bike--fixed gear, no brakes--through the streets of New York City with absolute fearlessness. And in a city full of taxicabs, buses, and angry drivers, that's no mean feat--especially since bike messengers are on the top of everyone's hate list. A bike messenger has to fight just to stay alive, let a lone to get his package to the destination on time. It's a hard job--and it just got harder. Wilee's latest delivery is more than it seems, and there's a dirty cop who's determined to get his hands on it. Will Wilee be able to deliver the envelope, or will the dirty cop turn our hero into roadkill?