January 2008

Mendelssohn: The Masterworks

Mendelssohn: The Masterworks, produced by Brilliant Classics   ★★★★★
This is not a comprehensive compendium of the works of Mendelssohn, though it is fairly complete, for the most popular works of this composer. This set is a budget offering, and performers are European and often less known, though never second rate. Virtually none of the performances were in any case poorly done, and the recording quality was superb (DDD) throughout. For the price, it remains an extremely good value. Besides excellent performances of his 5 symphonies and two oratorios (Elias and Paulus), you also get performances of his harder-to-find string symphonies, as well as a reasonably complete offering of his chamber works. I don’t see all of his solo vocal works, though a significant number of pieces are included, again, by first-rate singers. All in all, it is a most worthy acquisition for those who appreciate the compositions of Mendelssohn.

The Returning King

The Returning King, by Vern Poythress   ★★★
Also subtitled “A Guide to the Book of Revelation”, this book is a cross between a commentary and a narrative explanation of the meaning of Revelation. By that, he approaches his comments in a somewhat commentary style, occasionally pausing to offer insights into obscure phrases or words. Yet, the flow of the book is more intended to simply try to offer a big picture of what the book is all about. Its closest parallel is the book “More than Conquerors” by William Hendriksen. Hendriksen does offer a similar 7 cycle motif to the book, but spends much more detail in detailing the nature of the cycles, and why a book of prophecy would be presented as a series of cycles. By 7 cycles, Hendriksen explains that history is re-told 7 times, each in a differing, and progressive perspective. Hendriksen is also not fearful about taking an opinion about his interpretative camps, making it clear that an amillenial view best fits the 7-cycle motif. I certainly agree with Hendriksen, and feels that, in part, makes Hendriksen’s text a much better text than Poythress has to offer. Poythress attempts to see makes the series of 7 cycles fit either premillenial, amillenial, or postmillenial thinking. I don’t believe it works. Poythress’ text is certainly not without value, and a worthy read, though, “More than Conquerors” remains a superior and more insightful text of providing an amillenial explanation of the last book of the Scriptures.


Goethe    ★★★★
Wahlverwandschaften, Der Leiden des Jungen Werthers, Lotte in Weimar, or, in English, Selective Affinities (Goethe), The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goethe), and Lotte in Weimar (Thomas Mann), or, The Beloved Returns.
This series is produced by DeFa, an Eastern German film studio, on a limited budget, yet still maintains a significant quality with good acting in the production. I will not review each film separately, but only mention that German reviewers on Amazon.de tended to be somewhat unkind, especially with Der Leiden des Jungen Werthers for not portraying the Goethe book accurately. I simply could not address that issue.  In Der Leiden, young Werther is unfulfilled in his love for Charolotte, and eventually commits suicide over this. It is reportedly based on the unrequited love that Goethe had for a young lady in Frankfurt where he grew up. Lotte in Weimar is included in the series, since it is a depiction by Thomas Mann of the hypothetical reunion of Lotte and Goethe in Weimar, after both were much older. Wahlverwandschaften is the story of love intrigue during the Napoleonic Wars, when a young noble couple is visited by a young relative of the wife, to which the husband falls in love. My wife and I engaged in conversations over these movies, comparing these films to those depicting the novels of Jane Austen. My sense is that Goethe possesses a much greater mastery of the depiction of the human condition, like Shakespeare than Austen. Jane Austen tends to paint fanciful novels, that while portraying a strong sense of early Victorian morality of love and courtship, paints that picture in a surreal, and fictitious environment of wealthy landed Gentry who spend their lives at sport, in an England that Englanders would like to believe existed but never did. Goethe (and Thomas Mann) gives one more of the true blood and guts of human existence, in a background that is more tragic but also more closely approximating reality than one would ever find in the Austen stories. Goethe never attempts to bypass morality, and, in Wahlverwandschaften, still leaves the complexity of moral issues seeking resolution with moral implications. Goethe remains heavily neglected by American schools, a travesty that is our loss.

Deutsche Geschichte

Nachgefragt: Deutsche Geschichte, by Reinhard Barth   ★★★★★
Translated essentially “Inquiry-German History”, this is a delightful little overview of German history written by a German for the school-age person. It presents various historical vignettes by first asking a simple question, such as, “How did the thirty-years war come about?”, or “What was Hitler’s goal in foreign policy?”, and then, a short 1-2 page answer is offered. More complex words are redefined in the columns. All in all, it makes for excellent reading practice for a faltering English speaker trying to learn another language. Of course, I did learn many new words, all of which a write down on an index card for re-review. The history is itself is fascinating, covering subjects that most Americans are not terribly familiar with, such as the events of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and the raid on Springer Verlag. Other topics are discussed differently than one would typically be presented in American schools, such as the nature of the two world wars. It is true that the victors write history, which usually is at least partially incorrect. So, one gets the feel with the history of Germany. In all, it was a good read, and I’ll be looking for more German history books to both practice my Deutsch, as well as see history from a different perspective.

Exegetical Fallacies

Exegetical Fallacies, by D.A. Carson   ★★★★
The book is divided up into four main chapters, each of those chapters illustrating a principle area of error in biblical exegesis. The first two chapters, on word-study fallacies, and on grammatical fallacies, were a tad bit challenging to read, in that I knew very little Greek. The chapters were not worthless, but educational in showing how interpretational assumptions and sloppiness can create grave errors in interpretation. The most practical personal lesson was to realize the danger of learning just a little Hebrew and Greek. Unfortunately, it will guarantee to create more false interpretations that light on a subject. This is easy to understand, as, when one learns another language, one can pick up a text and assume to understand clearly what is being said, until one reads a legitimate interpretation. Such an experience can be quite embarrassing. The third chapter, on logical fallacies, was very good at pointing out how sometimes muddled thinking leads to the most inappropriate conclusions. Such muddled thinking includes carrying in assumptions and preconceived baggage into a Scripture passage, that causes is to say something other than what the author truly intended it to say. Finally, presuppositional and historical fallacies were discussed. Some discussion was spent in the review of the new deconstructionist movement, attempting to claim that the Scriptures could mean whatever the reader saw in them. Such an interpretation is in defiance of the historical author, who meant his words to mean very specific things. All in all, this is a must-read book for any serious biblical scholar, and though it will be a bit above the head of the one not entirely skilled in the Biblical languages, is still instructive at helping one detect when exegesis has failed to properly divide the word of truth.

Systematic Theology

Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem ★★★★
Grudem’s and Berkof’s Systematic Theologies were both required reading when I took a systematic theology class from JI Packer with Regent College in Vancouver, Washington. He encouraged us to read Grudem since, he stated, “there is no God in Berkof”. Grudem’s strengths are often his weaknesses. It is an easy read, perhaps too easy. Many theological words are not used, and it is written at about the 8th-grade level. This is a little bit of a pity, since seminaries are using this as a textbook to train pastors. It would be like going to medical school, and using the anatomy coloring book as your primary text, talking about the collar bone rather than the clavicle, armpit rather than axilla, or belly button rather than umbilicus. True, you need to know both terms. But, I expect seminary students to be trained in a fashion that befits advanced post-graduate learning. Otherwise, throw out college, and send our pastors-to-be to bible school, like the Baptists do.
Grudem tends to be solidly grounded in Reformed thinking, which makes this a pleasure to read. My main complaint is that he tends to be preoccupied with certain topics and ignores others. Many historical controversies, such as the origin of the soul, are nearly completely ignored. Yet, he spends over 70 pages discussing the role of gifts in the church. Regarding gifts and miracles, Grudem is definitely a non-cessationist, to which I don’t have a serious problem, except when pushed too hard. Grudem is very reluctant to admit that miracles have always tended to be rare, and he would rather like to think that they are predictable and expected. Regarding prophecy, I tend to agree with him that prophecy is more than just teaching, though I disagree that it is necessarily something more earth-shattering than exhortation. Grudem is also quite eager to defend the pentecostal version of tongues, which I have a serious problem with. He even admits that “tongues interpretation” is only a rough summary of the meaning of what was said, which, in my book, is NOT what is meant by interpretation. I have yet to see a charismatic or pentecostal service that uses tongues in a biblical fashion. I’m also not a pre-millenialist, but won’t object too seriously his stance on that. He fails to offer any suggestion that historic pre-millenialism might have legitimate objections. Grudem’s greatest strength is in discerning which issues are truly worth rolling up your sleeves for a good fight, versus those issues which are not worth being divisive about. All in all, I’d give it 4 stars for laymen’s use, and only 2 star for seminary use.

Pique Dame

Pique Dame, Peter I. Tchaikovsky, performed at the Kirov Opera, Valery Gergiev  ★★★★★
I’m in love with Gergiev, and so far, he can do no wrong. As an opera conductor, you will not find a bad opera under his baton. Pique Dame is no exception. Both staging and music get 5 stars. The performance showed the extreme character of acting, parts are sung to perfection, and music executed flawlessly. The story by Pushkin is quite creative, and representative of the genius of his pen. Interestingly, Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, and Gergiev were all from St. Petersburg, and thus a most fitting place for the opera to be performed. Pique Dame is a perfect example of Russian Opera at its best.

Late January 2008

Well, Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and we try to maintain a tradition to help celebrate this great man, like eating fried chicken and watermelon. Unfortunately, I cannot talk freely about this day, since I am not of Negro African descent (there are Caucasian Africans–really!!!!), and fear any reprisal for not being politically correct, so I will eat my fried chicken in silence and reflection. My heart is right, and my lips are sealed. p.s. Our grandson may have a touch of African blood in him.
I had no intention of posting this blog so soon since I intend on posting only once a month. But, people tormented me, and I am condemned to publish this drivel for public review. Please note again the side comments for lawyers or litigious folk.
Several things are happening. One. I wrote a bunch of book, movie, and music reviews. You’ll find those under the subheading “Kritik” on my website. Two. Our medical office moved down the hallway to a larger office. We needed more space. It’s nice. Three. Struggling to re-invent medicine. It is intolerable in its current state. Four. Loving a new start-up church in Puyallup, called Resurrection Presbyterian Church. I’ll try an update on that in a few months.
I’ve gotten to talk over the phone in the last few days with the peregrinatious and dearly beloved daughters (Rachel and Diane) and am delighted to hear that they are both doing well. Jonathan is so way-out cool, at the U of W, and doing well. Sarah and Andrew remain just too wonderful for words. Andrew got a new bicycle, and so look forward to running him to death on the asphalt.
Meanwhile, stay cool, and keep your stick on the ice.

Long Distance Cycling

Long-distance Cycling by Edmund Burke and Ed Pavelka    ★★★★
A helpful manual on how to truly torture yourself on a bicycle. They offer help on how one can ride a bicycle steadily for 120 days (exaggerating a little bit) while sleeping only 2-4 hours a night. In actual fact, it is a nice book for familiarizing one with the thought of riding one’s bicycle farther than around the block. They offer helpful hints on how to increase your stamina, how to prepare for a long ride, how to remedy the most-common ailments of the long-distance cyclist, and how to maintain one’s composure while riding long distances, including what to eat and drink, and how to maintain ones’ well-being and sanity. A helpful read for anyone wishing to ride their bicycle more than 30 miles at a time.

Heimat series

Heimat, Heimat II, Heimat III  ★★★★★
The entire series is quite large but well worth watching. It is entirely in German, but you can get English subtitles from Amazon.co.uk. Get the Tartan Video edition, which is reportedly unabridged and best quality. The version you get from Amazon.com is more expensive, and reportedly of lesser quality. This was a television series in Germany, but would never make it in the US without exceptionally heavy editing of various scenes, though it would distract from the story. Heimat starts out in a fictional village of Schabbach in the Hunsrück region of Germany in 1919 and follows a family over the years. You observe as the family grows, deals with WWII and the aftermath, and deals with the various social issues that arise in Germany over the years. In Heimat II, you follow the life of one of the children in Heimat, Hermann Simon, as he leaves to München to attend the music academy during the 1960s and 1970s. In Heimat III, you follow Hermann’s eventual return to the Hunsrück area, his marriage to Clarisse, and the eventual demise of most of the Simon family to the pressures of modern life. Clarisse is portrayed in an almost biographical fashion (in real life, she is the wife of director Edgar Rietz), and Hermann was also biographical of the director Edgar Rietz. The entire series has a sense of realism that is unusually well done, leaving you with a feeling that you know the Simon family well. It is a must-see, especially if you are interested in Europe and its people.