If St. Paul had used Powerpoint…

February 8, 2014

I’ve seen Scripture passages “translated” into a format familiar to users of modern technology, such as
God texts the Ten Commandments.” But this is the first time I’ve seen anyone tackle an entire book of the Bible.

I’m not sure whether this is poking fun more at people who inflict their tacky Powerpoint presentations on others, or at those who prefer Scripture packaged in convenient, sound-bite-sized portions. But this “Terrible Powerpoint” version of 1 Corinthians is humorous.

Books: The Story of the Christian Year

January 6, 2014

The Wee Kirk conference we attended in October had a book swap. I took a book which I had not found particularly interesting, and came home with The Story of the Christian Year by George Gibson. I enjoy reading history, particularly when it relates to something else I have a strong interest in (in this case, the Christian church), and the origins of the church year is a topic I had read very little about.

I grew up familiar with at least some seasons of the church year. Lighting Advent candles was the natural lead-in to Christmas, and our Advent calendars always started with the first Sunday of Advent, not with December 1 as I see so many of them today. Lent I considered something for grownups to be concerned with, not children, but I knew when it was and that it ended with Holy Week, which included Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then of course Easter.

When I began to attend a fundamentalist church as a teenager, I was surprised to find that people there not only did not celebrate these days and seasons, they did not even know what some of them were. Those who did know about them considered them unbiblical, remnants of the Roman Catholic church that mainline Protestant churches had retained because of their own low regard for Scriptural truth.

For the years that I considered myself a fundamentalist, I adopted that attitude myself. After all, the church I had grown up in had never preached the Gospel clearly. It wasn’t until I went to a fundamentalist church that I learned that I needed to admit that I was a sinner, that Jesus had died for my sins, and that I trusted him for salvation. The church I had grown up in was seen as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5 KJV), focusing on the outward forms rather than the truth.

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Reading Augustine

January 2, 2014

Considering my post yesterday about reading the classics, it seemed quite serendipitous today to discover this invitation to read Augustine’s City of God, a little bit each day, over the course of this year. It’s one of those classics I’ve thought from time to time (as I happen upon mentions of it in something else I’m reading) that would be good to read, but that seemed too difficult to tackle on my own. But now I won’t be on my own. At the point when I joined the Facebook group, it was up to 841 members.

Collin Garbarino, who is organizing this, says that “City of God has everything—history, theology, philosophy, science.” That definitely sounds like my kind of book. And I don’t even have to track down the copy that I’m sure we have somewhere, since it is available online in various formats. Reading on a computer screen isn’t my favorite way to go, but it has the advantage of being something I can do from different computers, as long as I have the link (which is one reason I included it here).

Garbarino has designated January 6 as the starting day, but I plan to get started now – no doubt there will be days when I have trouble finding time to read even three or four short chapters.

Books: Confident Faith

November 23, 2013

After reading five books in Tyndale’s Summer Reading program, I was entitled to receive one book free from the same reading list. I had some trouble coming up with five books I was interested in reading, though I did end up finding all five worth reading. I had borrowed them from the library, however, and had no interest in acquiring my own copy.

I finally settled on Mark Mittelberg’s Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs. The reviews I read at amazon.com were very positive, and Lee Strobel (whose books The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ I had previously read and found helpful) calls it an “invaluable guide” which he wishes he had had when he was looking for the truth about the Christian faith.

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Books: What Language Shall I Borrow?

November 11, 2013

As chair of the worship committee at church, I look for resources to enhance our public worship. Most of our time as a committee seems to be spent on planning the logistics of the worship service ( e.g. who is the accompanist each week, who is doing special music), but I try to occasionally bring up topics about the meaning and purpose of worship.

What Language Shall I Borrow?, by Ronald Byars, intrigued me because it addresses the issue of whether to use traditional or more contemporary language in the worship service. I have attended churches that used traditional language and others that use contemporary language, and I see certain benefits in both.

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Books: Holy Is the Day

September 13, 2013

Holy Is the Day is a new book by Carolyn Weber, whose book Surprised by Oxford I enjoyed so much when I read it back in April. In the earlier book she told the story of how she came to faith in Jesus Christ while a student at Oxford University. This book is less easy to summarize, but full of wisdom, humor, and spiritual encouragement, as well as wonderfully poetic use of language.

The book was just released this week, but I read an Advanced Reading Copy in electronic format. This is the first time I had ever read an ARC, and I learned from the experience how much I usually depend on knowing what a book is about before I read it. (I also decided on don’t like reading books in electronic format. Perhaps if I had a portable reader I’d mind it less.)

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but of course that’s because we usually do. Even trying to discount the impact of the cover design, I often choose whether or not to read a book based on what I read about the book on the cover (or the inside flap). These tell me something of what the book is about, and/or other people’s reactions to the book.

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Books: Congo Dawn

August 19, 2013

If I had to describe Congo Dawn in one word it would be this: gripping.

I cared about the characters, their situations were completely believable, and as the conflict moved toward a climax my heart was beating faster out of concern about how things would turn out. Considering both the setting (war-torn Congo) and the theme of God bringing good out of suffering, I could hardly feel confident that the author would arrange for all the good guys to make it through alive.

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Books: Borders of the Heart

August 9, 2013

I picked this book to read because it is part of Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program. The previous three books I read were from the non-fiction list, and I had liked all of them, even though none were books I would probably have read otherwise. So I decided to try some books from the fiction list.

I selected Borders of the Heart in large part because it is by Chris Fabry. I had not read any of his novels previously (but planned to read one sooner or later), but I had read three of his humor/inspirational books. I bought Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories to go with the very humorous Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner and Legally Correct Bedtime Stories by David Fisher.

I don’t think it was quite as funny as the books by Garner or Fisher, but I enjoyed it enough to also buy Away With the Manger and The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy them as much, but I was interested in seeing what Fabry did with fiction.

I was particularly interested in seeing a novel tackle the issue of illegal immigration, especially from a Christian perspective. As it turns out, however, the main characters are not actually dealing with a case of illegal immigration but with a drug cartel. (That is also an important issue, and one that has significant ramifications for how the whole border issue is handled.)

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Books: C. S. Lewis – A Life

July 20, 2013

One of my early memories is lying on the hide-a-bed in the living room, listening to my sister read one of the Narnia books. Maybe she read the whole series – I think it was summer vacation, so there was plenty of time.

I had no idea who C. S. Lewis was, and I don’t know if I got any of the Christian symbolism, but I loved the books – all except The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I found slow and rather boring. When I discovered, as a teenager, that C. S. Lewis had written other books besides the Chronicles of Narnia, I eagerly read several of them.

What I never read, until last week, was a biography of C. S. Lewis. I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t care for reading biographies. But when it’s about someone whose writing I so admire – both the novels and the non-fiction books on Christianity – I decided it would be worth checking out C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.

McGrath does an excellent job of helping the reader get to know something of the man behind the writings. Compared to two other biographies I read recently (for a genre I tend to avoid, I’ve been reading a lot of it lately), it achieves a good balance between too little detail and too much. I learned interesting facts about Lewis that I hadn’t known (for instance, that he was Irish!), but I rarely felt bored by the details.

In his Preface, McGrath says that his goal is neither “to praise Lewis or condemn him, but to understand him – above all, his ideas, and how these found expression in his writings.” As this is the only biography I have read of Lewis, I can’t say objectively how well McGrath succeeds, but I think that approach is part of why I enjoyed reading the book as much as I did – and finished it almost as quickly as I do most works of fiction.

I was looking forward to learning about Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity. I am always interested in stories of how people came to faith from a position of skepticism, what arguments convinced them that Christianity is true. (I am also interested in the stories of people who made the opposite “conversion,” from Christianity to atheism, though my impression is usually that something was lacking in their understanding of Christianity to begin with.)

I was intrigued, though I have to admit somewhat disappointed, to learn that Lewis came to faith not by reason of logical arguments, but by “a process of crystallisation.” A variety of facts and ideas, not all that significant by themselves, turned out to fit into a pattern that made sense once the central truths of Christianity were accepted.

Lewis used this same approach in the radio broadcasts that eventually were published in book form as Mere Christianity. Lewis shows “that what we observe and experience ‘fits in’ with the idea of God.”

Of course, this approach would seem to leave open the possibility that another “big picture” might fit our observations and experiences equally well – or perhaps better. McGrath does not explore this line of thought – that is my own reflection on my disappointment at Lewis’ “inferential, not deductive” approach.

What McGrath does mention, as one of the most significant events of Lewis’ journey to faith, is a conversation he had with his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien about the idea of “true myth.” I remember now having read about this when I was in college, and having found the idea very meaningful.

The idea is that in every human culture there have been “imperfect and partial insights about reality,” manifesting themselves in the myths of the various religions. These are not wholly false; rather they are “echoes or anticipations of the full truth” found in Christianity. Therefore it makes sense that so much would also “fit in” with the ideas of other religions.

(I don’t know whether Lewis studied any other world religions – I tend to doubt it since McGrath makes no mention of such study. I have a set of tapes on world religions that I got to see for myself how well they seemed to “fit” compared to Christianity. None of them struck me as fitting nearly as well, but then I have to say that as an outsider looking in, lacking the interpretive framework that in “insider” would have.)

One of my few criticisms of the book is how much time McGrath spends on the date of Lewis’ conversion. Now that Lewis’ letters have been published, McGrath was able to work out a timeline of various key events related to his conversion. McGrath concludes that not only were previous biographers wrong on the date, Lewis himself got it wrong in Surprised by Joy (he was apparently somewhat weak on dates). It’s an interesting point, but not – to most readers – interesting enough for page after page detailing the basis for McGrath’s revised timeline.

I was of course also very interested in learning more about how Lewis came to write his various works of fiction. Most people in our society are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia (especially with the recent movie adaptations), but fewer know about his space trilogy or other works of fiction.

Lewis had himself been an avid reader from the time he was a boy, and he realized how powerful imaginative writing was in communicating truth. Having written a number of books arguing the truth of Christianity and thereby achieved fame as a Christian apologist (and also the disdain of many of his fellow academics for writing “popular” books), he later came to choose fantasy as a vehicle for understanding reality.

One of the reader reviews of this book on amazon.com objected to the amount of space devoted to the Narnia books, compared with very little on the other books. I suppose in part this may be due to people’s greater knowledge of and thus greater interest in the Narnia books. Certainly, being children’s books, they are the easiest to read and enjoy. (My other favorite is The Screwtape Letters, hardly difficult to read, but filled with examples of life in wartime Britain that may be harder for people today to relate to.)

One intriguing point about the Narnia books is why there are seven of them. I never would have thought that an important question to answer – I just assumed that was how many story ideas he came up with. But in 2008, a scholar of Lewis’ work suggested that the Narnia novels reflect themes related to the medieval worldview of seven planets (the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).

I can easily see how The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is associated with the Sun, and I’m not surprised to see The Silver Chair matched with the Moon. McGrath explains the connections between Prince Caspian and Mars. I have no idea on the others; it would be interesting to learn more about Ward’s analysis.

I had thought there might be somewhat more about Lewis’ writings as a scholar of English literature, as well as more about his other works of fiction. But you can only fit so much in one book – at least without turning off some readers whose interest in Lewis does not extend to a longer book.

McGrath has also just written The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis, which is not about those other books, but explores various aspects of Lewis’ ideas more in-depth. It’s not currently available from our library’s regional network, but when it is, I will probably want to read it.

Books: The Lawgiver

July 18, 2013

I had heard of Herman Wouk but never read any of his books. When I saw his latest book, The Lawgiver, in the library, I couldn’t even think of the title of any of those books of his I hadn’t read. But the name meant something, and I decided this looked like a good book to read to see if I wanted to read more.

I saw from the cover that Wouk had always wanted to write a novel about Moses, and he had finally found a way to do so by writing about the making of a movie about Moses. I enjoy reading novels about Biblical characters, so that was another reason to read it. And it’s short – even without knowing any of his books I remembered that they were long.

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