Pacific Crest Trials

May 13th, 2017

Pacific Crest Trials: A psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, by Zach Davis and Carly Moree★★★

Zach Davis wrote this book as a parallel to a similar book he wrote soon after completing the Appalachian Trail, called Appalachian Trials. Zach seems to admit that at the time of the writing of this book, he had not yet hiked the PCT, though his co-author and friend Carly Moree has done both the AT and PCT. Sections of this book are now written by Carly. This book focuses on the mind games that play on the hiker leading to an unsuccessful attempt to complete the entire trail. The book emphasizes appropriate mental preparation for the hike, discusses how one can avoid the temptation to bale out and return to the comforts of house and home, but also includes the mental problems that are common among those who complete the hike. Advice is good, in that it helps to know what sort of mental issues are going to be at issue. His solutions are often in need of great personal modification. To mentally prepare, he encourages hikers to truly examine why they are wanting to hike the trail, what they expect to get out of it, and what will be the consequences of failure. There are several addenda to the book, one written by Carly Moree on the differences in the PCT and AT and how one would adapt to those difference. Then, a fairly experienced and multiply accomplished thru hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas wrote a chapter on gear.

I appreciated the author discussing something that is usually not addressed in planning a long thru-hike, that of the mental issues of enduring the trail. Most people focus on gear, resupply, planning, and other matters, and this book conveniently informs one of the mental anguish that will occur, allowing the hiker to be prepared for these issues. The main author also runs a website, which is quite informative in preparing for the PCT. It might have been nice if he had at least once done the PCT, and one could tell that much material seemed to be cut-and-pasted from the Appalachian Trials book, in that it continues to reference the AT.

 

Bad Science

May 7th, 2017

Bad Science, Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tate, and is an enjoyable read. It is not about science, per se, but about research and science in health care. It is a book that I wish most people (who choose to be opinionated about health care problems) would read. The slightly less than excellent rating is not because it was a mediocre book, but for reasons to be explained below. The book is good because he hits at many of the issues that is encountered by popular medicine, whether it be conventional or alternative. So many people are deeply opinionated in things they know little about, and health care ranks at the top of the list. The book has 12 chapters, which I’ll briefly review.

Chapter 1, Matter, is an attack on a potpourri of crazy alternative health options, focusing on detoxification methods. Sadly, these treatments suggest that they are based on “science”, though worthwhile studies are virtually non-existent. Chapter 2, Brain Gym, attacks a ritual that I guess is quite popular in the British school system, but was exported from the US. In it, students go through a number of silly rituals to improve their “brain power”. Such a concept needs minimal argument as the method is so ad hoc and untested. Chapter 3 Homeopathy, is explored in a bit more depth. Goldacre’s biggest rant is against the extremely shoddy nature of their studies, as he begins to explore with the reader what it takes to engage in a legitimate clinical study. As a side comment, these were issues that were even of serious concern to the bench scientist. He spends some time introducing the issue of the Cochrane collaboration, and organization of scientist/statisticians which will take a given topic, research as many studies as possible that addressed the given topic, combine the studies through fancy statistical analysis, and then come to a conclusion. Chapter 4 is about the placebo effect, clarifying in many ways the power of a placebo. Chapter 5, titled The nonsense du jour, explores more about issues of bad science, how studies are poorly controlled, etc., but then focuses on nutritional studies and and anti-oxidants. Chapter 7, Nutritionists, develops an all out attack on people making ridiculous food claims, which are most plentiful. Chapter 8, The doctor will sue you now, goes into a personal story of Dr. Goldacre being sued by Dr. Matthias Rath for libel regarding Rath’s claims for the benefit of high dose vitamins, but lacking any substantial research to support that claim. Of course, the claim is so typical, that physicians and Bid Medicine are in collusion against alternative treatments, yet alternative treatment practitioners do not repel those claims by offering a legitimate scientific study. Which leads to chapter 9, Is mainstream medicine evil? Here, Goldacre takes a hard look at big Pharma, and instances where they have twisted or concealed data. The example used was of Vioxx, whose problem would never had been found if sloppy science was being used. But, Goldacre makes a claim that big Pharma has gone wrong in the past, and how pressures on the pharmaceutical industry will continue to manifest serious problems. In this chapter, I think that Goldacre was a little too kind to big Pharma. Yet, he also published an entire book attacking Big Pharma, so, perhaps he is leaving much to another book. Chapter 10, Why clever people believe stupid things, summarizes why very intelligent people, including those who have had scientific training, can be so wrong with healthcare studies. Not understanding randomization and statistics, preformed bias, drawing conclusions after the fact of the study all lead to wrong conclusions. This is probably the best chapter in the book. Chapter 11, Bad Stats, hits even harder on how study design, randomization, abuse of data, lack of critical thinking, etc., has led to so many false conclusions, and even major lawsuits, where the uncritical mind (especially lawyers) can draw conclusions from data that just isn’t there. Chapter 12, The MMR hoax, is a rant about the bad science used to suggest that the MMR vaccine is bad for you, causes autism, etc., etc.. His case is strong. I’m glad he didn’t attack the fight against the flu vaccine, whose science is pathetic. So, the book is good about detailing how bad science, bad statistics, and bad thinking can lead so many people (including very bright people, scientists, doctors) to wrong conclusions regarding issues related to health.

So, what did I not like about the book? I felt that Goldacre was completely lacking in humility, and his assumption that science can avoid issues of investigator bias are wrong. His assumption that with “good” science, all truth will be fore coming is fitting of a positivist mindset, which has been otherwise been thoroughly destroyed as a philosophic construct. Science depends on paradigms which so often are just plain wrong. It’s been shown that predictably, paradigms will change every 20-40 years, whether it be in health care, or in the hard sciences. He remains hyper-critical about everybody but himself. This is the greatest failure of this book, and Ben could use a dose of humility.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

October 24th, 2016

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Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi ★★★★

This is an autobiography of the conversion of Nabeel Qureshi from a devout Muslim faith to Christianity. Nabeel was born in the USA, but grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family belonging to a sect called the Ahmadi. Living in Virginia, he was challenged in his faith by a close Christian friend David Wood. David and Nabeel met in high school, and continued on together in college, until Nabeel eventually applied to and was accepted into medical school. Through a number of years and Nabeel seeking inconsistencies in his faith, he finally had a series of dreams which led him to become a Christian. The book is written in multiple very short chapters, and so is somewhat spasmodic or convulsive  in the way it is read. There is a lengthy appendage to the book. I appreciated this book as a means of describing the challenges of bringing a Muslim person to faith in Christ. Nabeel has written several other books, one on Jihad and another on the distinctives of Muslim versus Christian theology.

Because Nabeel grew up in the USA and to a small sect of the Muslim faith, he is somewhat lacking in seeing the result of a large community of regular Sunni or Shiite Muslims. I am not challenging Nabeel of deficits in knowledge of the Muslim faith, but note that having lived for a while in two Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Extrem Nord Cameroon), my picture of the Muslim faith in those countries (as can be found in most Muslim countries) is less romantic than his views. The people appear bound by an ugly task-master of an intolerant god, with joyless worship of this uncaring and merciless otherworld being. Nabeel shows a kinder, gentler Muslim faith more closely related to its Christian roots, explaining why it is dangerous to categorize all Muslims as dangerous jihadists. Note that I view the Muslim faith as a Christian heresy (which it is!). This kinder, gentler subset of Muslims probably represents a small minority of Muslims just as most “Christians” are Christian in name only. The only problem is in being able to sort out one from the other.

Qureshi shows the reader the formidable challenge of witnessing to the Muslim. The most important aspect is not in having an encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim faith and doctrine, but in simply being able to share clearly the Christian faith, including the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity, the formation of the canon of Scripture, etc., and to know why these doctrines are important.

Qureshi continues to write. He has appended this book to fill in 10 years of time since he first became a Christian. He frankly discusses the problems of his family rejecting him for his faith. He discusses finishing medical school, but deciding upon going into the ministry instead, and now works with Ravi Zacharias. Only recently in the news is it known that Nabeel has an advanced gastric cancer and probably will not live too much longer. It will be sad to see the loss of such an interesting person.

If You Can Keep It

July 7th, 2016

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If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas ★★★

I ordered this book on-line in February from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail in late June. I’ve read another book by Metaxas which intrigued me, leading to me to order this book. I found out about the book on Facebook, coming from Metaxas’ blog site. I typically appreciate how Metaxas writes, and so felt that I would enjoy reading this book. I’ve met and chatted with Metaxas, I find him to be most likable, and would love to engage in more conversation with him. He is bright, and mostly right-on. The other book by Metaxas that I’ve read was “Bonhoeffer”, a stimulating read, though a book for which I felt Metaxas would frequently draw erroneous conclusions, such as to state that Bonhoeffer was a martyr, which he most certainly was not. That discussion might be found in my review of that text. But, let’s get on with “If You Can Keep It”.

The book is seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. I’ll comment on the chapters after I briefly summarize them. The introduction presents the topic, titled by a phrase uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention. When asked whether we would be a republic or a monarchy, Franklin noted that we would be a republic, if we could keep it. Focused on that phrase, Metaxas seeks to restore through the book the zeal to keep this republic founded roughly 230 years ago. Chapter 1 begins the argument by noting that a republic can function only in the environment of moral people. Government cannot make us moral, and each citizen must hold the responsibility for personal morality. Chapter 2 introduces a concept borrowed by Os Guinness called the golden triangle. Specifically, the triangle is that freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom. Chapter 3 was simply a summary of the ministry of George Whitfield in America, leading to a spiritual revival. Chapter 4 notes how civilizations will have historical heroes that are venerated. He discusses the American heroes that are too commonly forgotten, such as Nathanial Hale, and the founding fathers, including Paul Revere. Chapter 5 builds heavily on the importance of moral leaders, contrasting the immorality of such leaders as Bill Clinton to that of Cinncinaticus, George Washington or William Wilberforce. Chapter 6 explores further the idea of American exceptionalism, and why it is important in thinking about our country. Chapter 7 is a plea that one must love their country (America) in spite of its faults. The epilogue recalls the sentimental experience of Metaxas seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor soon after the 9/11 tragedy.

What is the problem with this book? Several…

  1. Metaxas doesn’t express deep insights into the real nature of America, and with what has gone wrong. Perhaps the seeds of destruction were sown at the writing of the constitution itself? Perhaps America’s “exceptionalism” has been not the virtue of its wonderful constitution but its transitory moments where many Americans actually had a true faith in the God of Christianity? Perhaps many of the symbols that evoke sentimental emotions with Metaxas are false symbols, such as the statue of liberty, which is about as pagan as you can get. Not that I dislike Lady Liberty, but I acknowledge that the Christian faith has a seriously different concept of the entire notion of liberty and freedom than pagan or humanistic sources provide for. Metaxas almost hints on that in the book, but fails to follow through, lapsing back into a “God, mother and apple pie” notion of America.
  2. Metaxas confuses general morality with a Christian morality. He spends much time talking about the importance of American’s being moral, but fails to explain why any morality not grounded in Scripture is really a false morality. In essence, morality essentially becomes what the state deems to be good and right. If tolerance becomes the greatest virtue, so be it, because the state has declared it to be so.
  3. Public heroes are nice and important, but only in the light of how they lived consistent with Christian beliefs. I can hold Latimer and Ridley as far greater heroes, dying for far greater principles, than that of Nathanial Hale, or those that perished in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Heroes now tend to be sentimental figures that do not inform the public into taking a costly moral stance. Metaxas completely confuses this in his book on Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, which might be noble, but certainly true heroes like David from Scripture had better restraint when an opportunity to assassinate evil Saul presented itself.
  4. The golden triangle, with deepest respect to Os Guinness, seems to be nonsense. There are no specific definitions of virtue (whose morality?) or faith (in what?) or freedom (from what or for what?). Faith in the Christian sense does NOT require freedom, but affords a much greater freedom than is offered by the constitution or any other man-created document or system of government.

Metaxas labors long about the importance of love for country, being sure to dismiss the “my country right or wrong” notion. He argues that you can love a country while hating the sins of that country. But, one’s love for country is far more complex than just “loving” America. Is he talking about America as a system of government? Do we idolize the good but seriously flawed constitution, the “living” document that now controls our country? Do we love it for its extreme secularism, that refuses to take a stance as a Christian nation, and supporting equally Islam, Buddhism, and even Satanism as legitimate religions of the land?  Metaxas doesn’t mention that our only real citizenship is a heavenly citizenship, and on earth we are strangers and pilgrims. It’s not that we are solely citizens of an other-worldly realm, but that we have dual citizenships, and must reconcile how to deal with that, being both members of planet earth and asked to care for the earth, yet members of a heavenly kingdom. Some have responded by claiming that the US system is too far gone, and moved to a country which tended for stronger Christian sympathies. Others have moved on to more oppressive nations, though with the thought that they are subject to a King that is not the prince of this world. Others, like myself, stay, realizing that this is my Heimat, my homeland, that I can have an influence for good in the community in which I live. I do not find America to be exceptional, but like the prophet Jeremiah, spend my time weeping that my nation could have made better decisions but have gone the way of inevitable judgment of a most serious nature.

I see our government as far more corrupt than meets the eye. I see the constitutional structure as fatally flawed in that it is primarily a secular humanist document, and we are now reaping the consequences of that structure. I see the loss of a public Christian morality as the essential loss of anything that once was good about our country. I don’t view ourselves as having a representative government, or that our votes have any substantial meaning. A plethora of events within the last twenty years have shown that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not exist in the USA, and that it will never return, save for a cataclysmic revival in our country. Why can’t Metaxas see this? I don’t know. I ponder the imponderable question as to how the majority of our “well-informed, greatest-nation-on-earth” citizens could vote in a fool and evil person to be their president. I find it even more confusing that some of my Christian friends voted and still stand behind that man, and will soon vote in an even more evil, corrupt liar. These Christian friends are very moral people as well as well educated intelligent folk, and so a generic “morality” just doesn’t explain how to fix America, as Metaxas’ thesis claims.

There is much that Metaxas says correctly in this book. I appreciate his insights into American history and his dissatisfaction with the current status of our country. I appreciate his appeal to return to a moral stance. I would find it easy to get along with Metaxas if we were to meet in public, and could easily become a good friend with him. I hope that with time and age, Metaxas would write a text about America lacking the sentimental statements and the sense that America is a city on a hill that we all wish it would have been. I would hope that Metaxas’ love for America would remain strong, but become more mature,  perhaps seeing America the same way that Jeremiah saw (and deeply loved) Judah.

The Challenge of Rainier

May 21st, 2016

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The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar (4th Edition) ★★★★★

I’ve seen this book around for many years sitting on shelves in the bookstores, but never bothered to purchase a copy to read. It seemed that the time was ripe. Mt. Rainier is in many ways my favorite mountain. It’s in my backyard, and I frequently bicycle its perimeter. I’ve climbed it twice. I’ve hiked the Wonderland trail twice. I’ve yet to have a truly bad moment on the mountain, even though rain has occasionally terminated an adventure on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is of particular note in that many of America’s most famous Himalayan climbers learned their craft on this mountain. It is frequently acclaimed to be the most photogenic mountain in the world. My love for the mountain has extended to all seasons, doing winter ski trips into the park, spending other times hiking the trails for the day, cycling around the mountain, and always standing in awe of it. Thus, learning more of the history of the mountain was most gripping to me. Dee writes very well, and it is hard to put the book down. He chronicles the first climbs of each of the main routes, the development of the park, recounts tragedies that occurred in the park, discusses famous and interesting characters who have climbed to the summit, and discusses the challenges of the park rangers in keeping the mountain safe for all who approach its flanks. Chapter 35, In Retrospect, hit a tender spot with me. Though my experiences on Rainier are far fewer and less intense than the author, we both share the deep sentimentality of the majesty and grandeur of the mountain, the respect for its challenges that it offers the visitor, and its desire to see it preserved from careless human ambition. I’d encourage any and all that have have fallen in love with Mt. Rainier to read this book, and to delight in the perspective of the mountain man on the greatest of American mountains.

Spandex Optional

May 6th, 2016

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Spandex Optional, by Peter Rice ★★★★

This is a short but cute little book about bicycle touring. It is an easy read, taking me about 2 hours to get through it on a leisurely basis. Peter discusses cycle touring from a non-traditional perspective. Some advice is not the best, such as riding any old beat up bicycle on a long distance tour. Much advice is great, such as just getting on the bike and doing it. The most salient theme was to simply RYOR (ride your own ride), using a similar phrase often used in the thru-hiking community (to hike your own hike); i.e., do it your way, as everybody will have their own individual style of doing a long-distance ride. It’s a nice read for anybody who feels that long-distance cycling must be performed in a certain fashion, such as wearing spandex shorts.

Just Ride

April 30th, 2016

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Just Ride, by Grant Petersen ★★★★

This is a cute little book of 89 chapters in 208 pages, giving advice on cycling. Grant Petersen founded Rivendell Bicycle Works, notes that he used to ride competitively, but now speaks strongly about the art of simply riding a bicycle and enjoying the endeavor. Advice fits into a number of categories, including how to ride a bicycle, what to wear, how to ride a bicycle safely, how to do the bicycle for health reasons, accessories for the bike, how to care for a bike, technical aspects of bicycle design, and philosophy of cycling. I disagree with some of what he has to say, but agree that his perspective on making bicycling an enjoyable pastime needs to be considered strongly by anybody riding a bike. It is a fun read, Grant writes well, and it will prove to serve as worthy advice even when he is not entirely correct.

Stealing America

April 12th, 2016

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Stealing America, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★★

This book is actually two narratives. The first narrative regards Dinesh’s stay for 8 months in an overnight retention facility, and the sentencing that led to that retention. Each chapter has stories from his sentencing or life in the confinement center. The second narrative spring-boards from the first narrative, in identifying how the US government is operating in an increasingly criminal fashion, akin to the hardened criminals that Dinesh met while at the detention facility.

The first chapter speaks of Dinesh being caught for a crime that seemed somewhat insignificant and something that is performed all the time, but felony charges are avoided because high profile people are aware of the minor technicalities in helping one avoid the label of “crime” to the “mis-deed”. Dinesh accidentally gave beyond donation limits by giving to a candidate through friends. He could have given massively larger funds through a PAC or other agency, but because he did what he did and had enemies, he was labeled a felon and ultimately condemned to 8 months in a confinement center, though avoiding up to 3 years of prison by paying his life earnings to a high profile lawyer. Having personally seen enough of the court systems, I can heartily agree with D’Souza that courts are a political sham; they are not blind, and justice is NEVER served in the courts. They are highly politically motivated by extremist liberal social justice warriors with an agenda. The myth of the American court system is screamed loud and hard in the sentencing of D’Souza.

Chapter two outlines the confinement center, a description of some of the people confined within the center. The description paints the guards and personnel that run the center as more pathological than the inmates. The criminals in the center, while they created heinous crimes (and oftentimes did not!), are described as less criminal than the people that run this country. The theme of “theft” and “stealing” is beginning to be developed in this chapter, where inmates may have performed robberies, but the grander robberies are daily performed in full public eye by our politicians.

The next few chapters begin to develop certain themes. These themes are based on the crimes that inmates committed, and how the politicians that run this country have the same pathological mindset as the inveterate criminals locked up behind bars. Gangsterism is one theme. Through their particular gangs (Republican or Democratic Parties), the once innocent politician goes from poverty to unbelievable wealth, which cannot be explained by their salary as a public servant. The reparations scam is another, where astronomical payouts to an undeserving dependent class of people are made even more dependent on the system, all under the guise of repaying groups for some hypothetical crime allegedly committed against their distant forefathers by people that have been dead for many generations. The greed and inequality scam is how the government feels it is their duty to level the playing field of inequality by the continual redistribution of wealth. The only wealth not redistributed is that of the leaders. Another scam is labeled the “You didn’t build that scam”, or as I would say, “it takes a village” scam. This supposes that you would never have been able to accomplish anything in life if it wasn’t for the government, failing to realize that the government would not have existed without yours and your forefather’s taxes being paid. The “you didn’t build it scam” give the government the permission to steal your earnings for redistribution.

D’Souza then switches gears and discusses the life of Saul Alinsky. Saul spent much time with Al Capone, learning first hand the art of gangsterism. This is relevant, because two characters, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both admittedly spent much time under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky, Clinton  writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, while Obama worked under him as a civic organizer. The criminal nature of Obama and Clinton are then both detailed.

The last two chapters bewail how America has been “stolen” from the people, and offering a solution as to how to crack the deception. He really doesn’t offer much, suggesting only that we need to restore the original America that did not steal from its citizens. I didn’t expect profound solutions from D’Souza, as he really doesn’t see the full impact of what has gone wrong with our nation.

There are some serious problems with the book. First, Dinesh identifies the “problem” as starting with Bill Clinton and exacerbated by the Bushes and Obama. In actual fact, the problems of corrupt government in the USA goes back to its founding, with founding fathers stacking the constitution in its own favor. I would identify progressivism as we know it as starting with Teddy Roosevelt and ultimately “losing it” with Woodrow Wilson. We are simply seeing the end result of a 100 years of deterioration in our government, making it unrecognizable should any of the founding fathers return from the dead. The second problem with the book is that Dinesh tends to think the problem of a stolen America to be primarily a Democrat problem. In actual fact, as recent events have shown quite clearly, the Republican party is way too similar to the Democratic party, and their politics tend to differ less than the politicians would like us to think. The Democratic Party is not the only criminal gang, but there are two criminal rival gangs fighting for preeminence on the public stage. As a side issue to the Republican party, D’Souza gives inordinate praise to president Lincoln, a man worthy of praise, but omits that he, more than any other president before him, established an uncontrollably powerful central government, much to our loss and giving rise to all of the problems D’Souza wails on in his book. By decentralizing government, empowering states and empowering the 10th amendment, reducing taxation and eliminating unwanted tariffs, Lincoln could have both abolished slavery and preserved the union without a war. The third problem is that D’Souza was affected by a wantonly corrupt court system in bed with the reigning politicians. Yet, he really doesn’t grasp the entire nature of how and why our court systems no longer administer justice or freedom. I am a little astounded as to why he is so blind to this issue. The fourth problem affects Dinesh as much as the country and that is a loss of faith. Dinesh fails to ever bring out that the primary reason America has gone the way it has, is that there is no longer a Christian morality, a Christian ethos, or a Christian faith in America. Dinesh, through his past divorce, seems to have somehow lost it himself. True, he still identifies as a Christian, but this book would leave you thinking that he only has a Christian gloss; there is nothing in this book that conveys a serious Christian mindset. By that, I mean a mindset that holds God in control of the universe, in control of politics, and a moral God that will judge the sins of the nation. His morality seems to be a morality that is entirely utilitarian in its function to maintain a civil society. This is not the morality of Scripture. I dearly hope that D’Souza will some day soon come to the realization of the problems above and write a book that can encompass a true reckoning of the spiritual and political state of affairs of our nation.

The book is a depressing book. It’s not that I’ve learned something new in the book. It’s that it’s all been reinforced from a person that tended to be very optimistic about our political system and the fruits of that political system. What’s most depressing is to grasp at how few people in America realize that we are a country that has gone off the cliff and is in free-fall without a parachute. People quibbling over whether Sanders or Hillary or Cruz gets the presidency are like kids playing on the deck of the Titanic during its final hours—”the boat’s going down children, and it isn’t worth haggling over whether Suzy stepped on the line in the hopscotch game”.

It is About Islam

April 6th, 2016

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It is About Islam, by Glenn Beck ★★

I’ve read several other books by Glenn Beck, and have disliked them, feeling that Beck writes in a superficial fashion, selling himself as a thoughtful analyst of modern thought, yet writing in a popular emotional, non-analytical mode. The reviews of this books suggested that it was different and that Beck had provided an essay that was competent in reviewing Muslim mindset and proposing thoughtful action. I was quite disappointed in my expectations. Beck is able to throw a mountain of facts and quotes at you regarding a subject, but his ability to condense those facts into meaningful discourse is lacking

The book is broken up into three parts. The first is a brief history of Islam. This was short and focused on Beck’s agenda in the book. The second part is an argument against 13 deadly lies of Islam, such as “Islam is not much different than Christianity or Judaism”. He offers quotes supporting the “lie”, and then refutes those “lies” with facts. The third portion of the book discusses action items.  All three sections of the book are weak, and perhaps they are weak because Beck has a tenuous starting point himself.

Beck is quite spirited in developing the idea that the Islam religion is a religion of hate, and out to conquer the world. There is probably a reasonable amount of truth in that statement. His action points include the following. 1. Understand the “enemy”. Correct. That’s why he wrote this book. 2. Don’t be afraid to speak. Sure, but when somebody like Donald Trump speaks strongly about dealing with Islam, you condemn them. Go figure. 3. Know yourself and your traditions. Fair deal, but what traditions are he talking about. In this section, he simply waxes further about the problems of Islam immigration into the US. 4. We cannot reform Islam – only Muslims can do that. But, that’s not an action point. And, the thesis of the book was that Islam is a religion of violence. So, essentially, the plea is for Muslims to quit being Muslim. Sure. Hell will freeze over before that happens spontaneously.

Beck has a serious problem refuting the Islam religion because he doesn’t understand the nature of Muslim theology, and how it differs from his own. As a Mormon, he belongs to a Christian heresy just as the Muslim religion is a Christian heresy.  Though Mormonism is not so violent as the Muslims are, it has occasionally engaged in quite violent acts in the name of their religion. It would be impossible for Beck to compare and contrast Muslim vs Christian theology, since Mormonism is as far from Christian theology as the Muslim faith is from Christian theology. He couldn’t possibly discuss comparisons of salvation by works versus salvation by faith in Christ, since Mormonism is salvation by works, just as the Muslim faith is salvation by works, hoping in the end that God just might look favorably on you.

So, I can’t recommend this book at all. There are other books about Islam, notably books by Nabeel Qureshi such as “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”that are actually worth reading. And, there are others. Don’t waste your money or time on this book. I should have known better.

 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

April 1st, 2016

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Grandma Gatgewood’s Walk, By Ben Montgomery ★★★★

This is a true and fascinating tale about a woman who married a very abusive man, had 11 children, and after her husband left her and the children grew up, she notified her children that she would be going for a walk. The year was 1955 and she was 67 years old. They had known their mother to occasionally disappear for a period of time, and so thought nothing of it. Eventually, she made it know to her family and the world as to what she was up to. She had decided to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. To allow that, she wore nothing but sneakers, some rummage sale walking clothes, and sewed herself a burlap sack to carry her scarce belongings, which she threw over her shoulder. She had a walking stick, an extra pair of glasses, since she was nearly blind, a blanket, and a large sheet of plastic to serve as a rain coat and shelter in the event that she could not find natural coverage from the rain. Her hike went from May until September, interrupted only by nosy and inquisitive news agents, and then, only once she was discovered as to what she was up to. It was a year of major east coast hurricane activity, so much of her northerly walk was drenched in rain and mud, and swollen rivers. She eventually made it to the tip of Katahdin, the northernmost part of the AT.

The story is broken up with three different dialogues. The most important was that of her actual walk, which was reconstructed from the notes that she took and the correspondence that she sent to her children. The second dialogue was flashbacks on her early life, going from childhood, to marriage, to a seriously flawed family life with a very physically abusive husband, 11 children, and much coping. Eventually she got a divorce, her children grew up, and she found herself alone, only to find her greatest enjoyment in walking. The third dialogue was discussion of the history of the Appalachian Trail, discussion of issues of the ecology of the trail, and the loss of a wild area.

The book is inspiring. It makes one wish to get out to walk. It is an easy but compelling read, hard to set down until the end. It was easy to follow the story lines in spite of the fact that they were broken up.

Since then, Grandma Emma Gatewood again did the AT a second time, becoming the first woman to ever hike the AT and the first person to ever hike it twice. She also section hiked it a third time, as well as walked from Independence, MO to Portland, OR following the route of the Oregon Trail. She did this while she was in her 70’s.

There is interesting discussion in the book about hospitality shown to her as well as mistreatment on her trip along the trail. Perhaps the book implies that people with crazy ideas need to be catered to.  Even in the 1950’s, most people that looked like “homeless tramps” were alcoholic, irresponsible persons. Grandma Gatewood was not alcoholic, but certainly expected assistance and handouts as well as shelter along the way. She could not possibly have done the trail in an entirely self-supported fashion, making her at least somewhat irresponsible. Yet, the book is still a good admonishment to show hospitality to strangers.

The book is labelled a New York Times best-seller. Like all labels of this sort, such as being a Pulitzer prize winning book or Oprah Winfrey book of the month club book, the label usually persuades me not to read the book. This book mostly stayed clear of political issues, but they could still be seen. As an example, the author spends much time speaking of the racial inequalities, and political machinations that transpired during the 1950’s. He happens to briefly mention the Republicans (never the Democrats) as associated with the segregation movement, without mentioning that the overwhelming majority of segregationists were Democrat. It is almost like taking the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” as reflective or based on history. In the Pirates movie, the pirates were the Spanish and the folk being robbed were the British. In real life, it was just the opposite. It’s as though history some day would have the Americans as killing off the Jews, with Hitler coming to rescue the Jews from a holocaust. New Yorkers, in their sophisticated sophistry, so often just get it completely wrong. Oh well. Read the book. Laugh about the historical or political mistakes. But get inspired to walk a long walk.

Slow and Steady

March 19th, 2016

Slow&Steady

Slow and Steady: Hiking the Appalachian Trail, by Robert A. Callaway ★

I read this book because the title and summary had appeal to me. I was contemplating a long thru-hike. The author was a physician like me. The author was about my age. And the author considering doing the hike with his younger brother, like me. Everything else is different.

I reality, this must be the worst account I’ve ever read of thru-hiking a long trail. I’ve read many accounts of both the AT and PCT, and this really is the worst account I’ve ever come across. In essence, it is how Robert managed to jamb approximately 80 separate 1-3 day hikes into one long season that ultimately covered the Appalachian Trail. His brother dropped out be fore he made it half way. He stayed in hotels roughly 30% of the time. His down days were massive. Only once did he do 20 miles. He admitted to becoming a bit more sociable in the conduct of the hike. His manner of hiking was horrid, like any Obama liberal (which he took time off during the hike to vote for). He shuttled two automobiles throughout the entire Trail, leap-frogging them along the way to get where he was going. Environmentally, I went apoplectic, thinking about the volume of exhaust and “global warming” Bobbie generated by his venture. In my book, it would be the worst way imaginable to complete a trail. He did accurately describe the trail as a trail for socialites—not exactly the reason why one goes into the woods.

On any hiking adventure, one must HYOH (hike your own hike). Bobbie indeed did that. The book was such a bore and so un-like I would imagine doing any thru-hike, that I would not even offer this to my brother, with whom I plan on hiking the PCT in several years. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody unless you personally know Dr. Callaway and just wish a chronicle of his bizarre journey.

Just A Farm Boy

February 27th, 2016

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Just A Farm Boy, by Samuel Jacob Feucht ★★★★★

First of all, I don’t dare rate this as anything less than five stars, since my father wrote this book. As he was getting up in age, we talked him into writing a book of his life, and the two oldest brothers Dennis and Lewis helped him get this produced and printed. Sadly, I only have one copy of this book, and the binding is falling apart. I will probably have it spiral bound, and then try to get the word processing file from Dennis. I hope that he still has it.

Dad had a very interesting life. He loved to tell stories, and this book reads very similar to how dad used to tell stories about his life. He was born in the northwest corner of Iowa on a farm with 14 siblings. He left home in his early twenties, first going to Illinois, then California, then back to the midwest, then a brief time back in southern California, before settling in to Portland, Oregon for the rest of his life.

Dad was a wonderful man. He was multi-faceted, and was able to survive frequent poor health with stomach problems, had some very unfortunate bad luck, such as being zoned out of business in Baldwin Park, CA, but overall, troubles did not seem to keep him down, and his faith in Christ sustained him.

Dad expressed a number of times how he often wished that he could have remained in southern California. The family couldn’t have been more grateful that he got out of California and settled in the beautiful northwest.

Though I had glanced over this book a number of times, I found that this reading of the book, complete at one sitting, filled in a number of episodes in dad’s life that I had either forgot about or simply glossed over. There are many areas of his life in which he should have given more details, such as details about his parents, his life in California, his coming to faith, his meeting mom, and their early life together, as well as events that surrounded our lives when we were very young children.

I wish that he had imparted to us more of his skill at the care of farm animals, but that wasn’t to be. It is not uncommon for me to be sitting around and realize that I miss my parents, both dad and mom. I’m grateful that dad took the time to chronicle at least part of his life for his children and posterity.

 

Institutes of the Christian Religion

February 6th, 2016

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Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: translated by Louis Battles (author John Calvin) ★★★★★

I initially started reading the Institutes in 1994, and got about ⅓ of the way through. Other books then became a major distraction. I restarted reading the Institutes from the beginning 2 years ago, taking a year hiatus in the middle for other books and issues, then returning to complete the entire 2 volume set at this time. It was a major undertaking, and something that I should have done years ago.

This is not a text that can be speed-read. There are many discussions of contemporary issues in Calvin’s time, that are now foreign to most of us. He takes up arguments against the Catholics which followed lines of arguments alien to today’s thinking. I was able to relate to his Anabaptist arguments, since I grew up Anabaptist. Calvin rarely ever addresses Luther and Lutheranism, occasionally simply mentioning side thoughts, such as when he was discussing the Lord’s Supper.

The style of Calvin’s writing is most interesting. Though at times he can be rather harsh in his words to opponents, this is found in most writings of that era, such as those of Lutherans, including Martin Luther himself. For the most part, Calvin writes in a very pastoral style. It is though he is delivering a 1520 page sermon. Calvin bleeds his heart and soul. You are never left wondering about how Calvin really feels about something.

Culture and society and the church have given Calvin some of the most nasty caricatures. He discussed as though his theology is 5 points (TULIP), and which of those five points should be accepted and which should not. (In reality, it is a logical all or nothing affair, but that’s another discussion.) The 5 points very poorly describe Calvin and his theology. Calvin spends very little time discussing such issues as predestination, limited atonement, irresistible call, etc. Though those doctrines are well established in the writings of Calvin, Calvin’s focus was on God, and not on five points.

Calvin is the probable author of one of the songs that we occasionally sing in church. I bring this up, because it best fits the heart and mind of John Calvin. The words are found below. If one reads it through thoughtfully, it gives the reader as good feel as to the nature of John Calvin. He is not the stern-faced hard-nosed preacher that developed a rigid exclusive form of Christian. His is a tender heart, seeking first and foremost to honor God, and to offer Him absolute supremacy and rule over earth. This is the Calvin that I saw in the Institutes, and a reason that everybody should read it through, all 1520 pages, some time in their life. As JI Packer noted, Calvinism is not just another “ism”, it IS Christianity. And I might add, Christianity at its best.

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.

 

What’s next. I now start Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, a 4 volume set, recommended by Pastor Rayburn, written 100 years ago, but recently translated from the Dutch. You might be waiting a while for this book report to come.

Trail Life

January 27th, 2016

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Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking, by Ray Jardine ★★★★★

Ray Jardine is the new godfather of backpacking, and has completely redefined the sport. Perhaps I might remind folk of Harvey Manning’s and Colin Fletcher’s texts…BackpackingManningWalkerFletcherBoth of these texts defined backpacking when I was a kid. And, both of them were the bibles of how to do it. I remember reading Manning’s text backwards and forwards, and following every step of instructions that he gave. His advice is still apropos to the weekend 5-10 mile hiker. For anybody other than that, Manning and Fletcher are now hopelessly obsolete. Ray Jardine, starting with a text that I have already reviewed recently, published in 1992, irreversibly redefined the art of backpacking. Jardine’s text is most relevant to the long-distance backpacker, but his advice is still relevant to weekend excursions. Ray has thrown out the heavy hiking boots, the heavy packs, the massive requisite arsenal required for survival in the woods in favor of a lean-mean but still relaxed strategy. There is no backpacking text today that will fail to mention Ray Jardine, or the “Ray-way”.

This book covers all aspects of backpacking, including equipment, clothing, food, hygiene, planning, obstacles, safety, etc., etc. It is relatively comprehensive. Besides his continual plea to go light, distinctives of Jardine include a number of defining issues. He has an extreme objection to brand names, and will even purposely remove labels from clothing, sand off labels from equipment, etc. He has a sterility fetish, being even unwilling to use silverware in a restaurant, and brings his own spoon to eat. His dietary advice is unique, usually quite good, but also a touch weird. I guess I’ll try corn spaghetti, but will never plan on eating it almost every night on the trail. There are too many other good foods out there, without having to resort to freeze-dried foods. Ray and his partner sew all their own clothing, as well as backpacks and other hiking equipment. I don’t plan on doing that. I would hope that commercial enterprises can provide us non-sewers with similar items.

Other than that, Jardine is a must-read for the new style backpacker, and this text is beautifully organized and illustrated. Thus, a very high recommendation.

More books about Francis Schaeffer

January 21st, 2016

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Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, by Colin Duriez ★★★★

I haven’t thought much about Francis Schaeffer recently, but realized through conversations with younger Christians that Francis Schaeffer is no longer a recognizable name. This is to the shame of the church that he and his thinking aren’t occasionally brought back to mind. For many of us that became Christians in the 60’s and 70’s, especially during the era of the Jesus movement, he was quite influential at shaping our thinking and world view. I have read or listened to other biographies of Francis Schaeffer and his work, including the Tapestry and L’Abri, written by Edith Schaeffer, listened to the Covenant Seminary course on Francis Schaeffer, by Jerram Barrs, and have met and spoke at length with Edith Schaeffer and Francis’ son-in-law Udo Middelman, have read his complete works at least twice and watched both of his film series several times, but have never met Francis Schaeffer personally. I also have many friends who have spent time at L’Abri, all of whom would say that their contact with Dr. Schaeffer was heavily influential at affecting the remainder of their life course. My own pastor had spent many hours as a child with Francis, being that his father was president of Covenant Seminary. With that in mind, I review this book.

Colin Duriez, who has spent a number of years at L’Abri and much time with the Schaeffers, is a most capable person to be writing Schaeffer’s biography, and can include personal anecdotes, as well as the result of an interview with Schaeffer toward the end of Schaeffer’s life, in 1980, and this interview is contained in the appendix of the book. The biography is short, and thus is going to be missing in some important details. Specifically, other biographies suggest that Schaeffer was more of a churchman than is presented in this book. He was quite involved up to the end with his Presbyterian denomination, which eventually became the Presbyterian Church in America. His books such as The Church before the Watching World and others witness Schaeffer’s true concern for the Christian church as found in denominations, even though Schaeffer felt as much at home in a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal church as he did in his native Presbyterian church environment.  Duriez speaks often and peripherally about Schaeffer’s philosophy, yet doesn’t develop it systematically. True, Schaeffer would identify himself as an eclectic mix of evidentialist, presuppositionalist, etc., and yet there is meaning to Schaeffer’s madness over and above trying to create a philosophy that was primarily evangelical in it’s intent. Words and thinkers (like Dooyeweerd) are thrown out without offering the reader at least some explanation as to why these people are being mentioned in the context of Schaeffer’s life. I loved the story of Schaeffer visiting Karl Barth, and wish that could have been further elaborated.

Duriez mentions frequently Schaeffer’s love for art museums, with an affection for modern art. Schaeffer appreciated some of the contemporary filmography, but tended to be highly selective in what he considered worthy of review. Duriez also mentions Schaeffer’s love for contemporary rock music, and knowing the words to many songs for the big rock groups of the 60’s and 70’s. Oddly, Schaeffer had a particular distaste for much music such as that of Wagner, and many 20th century musicians. Schaeffer rarely ever mentions Bach’s music as formative of a broader Reformed Christian community. This selection of particular appreciation for the arts has permeated Schaeffer’s disciples, almost to the point that they view Schaeffer as their cultural pope. I find that to be a touch disingenuous.

Outside of my criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. Schaeffer is sadly being forgotten by the Christian world, and it is to our detriment. Nobody within Christianity has yet risen that was as capable as Schaeffer at providing both a philosophical justification for Christianity while demonstrating the need for Christians to be obedient to the word of God. His was not an ethereal philosophy, but very practical, since it emphasized the need to never divorce religion from experience or history.

 

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Francis Schaeffer, A Mind and Heart for God, edited by Bruce Little ★★★★

This short book was taken from a conference given in 2008 in Wake Forest, NC, which included five talks. I’ll briefly mention each talk.

Francis A. Schaeffer: The Man, by Udo Middelmann. This is a very brief but delightful summary of the life and thinking of Schaeffer.

Francis A. Schaeffer: His Apologetics, by Jerram Barrs. Jerram surveys the apologetic methodology of Schaeffer, concluding that Schaeffer was most interested in evangelism, and never ever thought of himself as an apologist for the faith. Thus, Schaeffer avoided debates, and avoided fixing himself within any apologetic category.

Francis Schaeffer in the Twenty-first Century, by Ronald Macaulay. This talk addresses the question as to whether Schaeffer was a prophet in foreseeing future troubles in the world. Schaeffer would have vigorously denied being a prophet, yet his cultural predictions have essentially become true. Schaeffer was particularly sensitive to a culture that advocated freedom without a Christian basis for it, or a Christian church based on religious sentiment rather than a dynamic belief in the word of God. Macaulay hits hard on Schaeffer’s war against contemporary pietism, which I appreciated. This was a delightful chapter to read, but am left wondering what Schaeffer would have been saying in today’s world. It is different than 50 years ago, in that, now that truth is universally accepted as unknowable, people no longer ask questions. The solution to any crisis in life is now resolved not by seeking philosophical consistency, but by seeking a hedonistic resolution for the moment without concern for future consequences. I would wonder regarding Schaeffer’s approach to the current political scene, now in a truly post-Christian scenario. “Speaking the truth in love” is going to take a different form than Schaeffer manifested throughout his life, perhaps being more pointed such as found in Christ’s, or perhaps Jeremiah’s ministry. What would Schaeffer say to a culture now overrun by the anti-Christian culture of the Muslim faith? I don’t believe that we could predict his response, and even if we could would still wish to defer to guidance from Scripture. Again, Schaeffer should not be treated as the political-cultural pope of our age, and he would agree with that if he could speak from the dead.

Francis Schaeffer: His Legacy and His Influence on Evangelicalism, by Jerram Barrs. Much of this talk focused on Schaeffer’s evangelistic method as it affected Jerram Barrs himself, as he became a Christian under the influence of Schaeffer. Barrs offers 8 points that characterize the nature and style of Schaeffer’s evangelistic methodology.

Sentimentality: Significance for Apologetics, by Dick Keyes. This talk has come under criticism from Amazon.com reviewers as being only peripherally related to Schaeffer, and not directly about him. Yet, I really enjoyed this talk, and felt that because it so heavily reflected Schaeffer’s thinking, that it was a worthy inclusion in this text. Sentimentality is displaced emotion that is directed toward the self. It denies a world that is not fallen, and does not result in appropriate responses. Though not mentioned in this chapter, my first thought was the outpouring of emotion when one watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion, yet I’ve to hear of even one life changed from this emotional Sintflut. Keyes discusses the result of Christians controlled by sentimentality, and how to deal with the sentimental person, by bringing them back to reality through some point of contact with reality.

I wonder how many more Francis Schaeffer conferences will be seen in the future, especially as those who lived in the 60’s and 70’s and were influenced by Schaeffer now are becoming a dying breed. Hopefully, his thinking will live on through such institutions such as Jerram Barr’s Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary. The history of institutions devoted to a good cause seem to be rather sad. Just look at such institutions as the YMCA, which is now neither young, doesn’t know the difference between a man or woman, is definitely not Christian, but sadly remains an Association. Schaeffer’s books will live on, and hopefully will be read by our children’s children for many more generations. I pray that someone in a future generation will rise and capably question the culture, and be able to confront the culture as Schaeffer was able to do a half century ago.

The Phantom Tollbooth

January 15th, 2016

PhantomTollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster ★★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Stan Pense. I had never heard of it. It is really a children’s book, designed for the 8-12 year old kid. It is also a fun book for adults. The story revolves around Milo, a kid who is bored at school, at home, and just can’t figure out anything fun to do. A box shows up in his room, which on unwrapping and assembling the contents, results in a tollbooth to a strange land, where Rhyme and Reason, two princesses are held captive. Milo, with the accompaniment of a “watch dog” and giant bug, encounter the insanities of a land without rational thought processes. The author has a beautiful way of playing with words, using phrases that play on homonyms (such as which and witch), or play on the various meanings of words. An example is when Milo and his friends end up on the island of Conclusions, which you can only arrive at by jumping. The book is a delightful read, and would be a useful means of getting children to make use of their time, study hard at school, and try to think in an orderly, rational way.

Immortal Fear

January 14th, 2016

Immortal Fear

Immortal Fear, by H.S. Clark ★★★★

Howard is at it again, writing another medical thriller. I have reviewed his past book, Secret Thoughts. As a reminder, Howard Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I practice, so have gotten to know him fairly well. He writes a lot like how he thinks. This book is a murder mystery, related to the last book only through the central character, Dr. Powers, an anesthesiology resident at an academic center in Seattle, WA. This time, Dr. Powers notes the connection of a string of murders, identifying that they seem to be connected through some sort of blood/tissue born pathogen. The evil mastermind behind all of this will remain for the reader to discover. Howard does write an interesting although sometimes fascinating and spell-bound story. He takes particular relish at expounding on the details of moments when the anesthesiologist needs to do his thing. This is an enjoyable and recommended read, especially if you know Dr. Clark and love medical mystery thrillers.

Wild

December 24th, 2015

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed ★★

After being completely uninspired by the movie that was based on this book, I found this book at Half price books for quite cheap, and decided to see if the book was any better than the movie. There are definitely some notable differences between the movie and the book, and many of the questions that I had with the movie were answered in the book. Cheryl writes well, and it is an easy book to read at a fast pace, and yet catch everything she has to say.

In summary, the book is a brief story of her life up to the present, with a large focus on the 3-4 months it took her to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. By “hike”, she also did a lot of hitch-hiking, skipping sections, and straying from the trail. Half of the book is not on the trail narrative, but the flight of thoughts as Cheryl recalled her past life leading up to her hike of the PCT. Essentially, she grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who was dumped by her mother and two siblings when she was 13 years old. She held a persistent love-hate attitude toward her father and mother, which was further exacerbated when her mother died at age 46 of ovarian cancer. Cheryl’s life went into a spiral from there, dumping a husband that loved her, engaging in sex with any asker, taking up mainline black tar heroin, killing her first baby, and then getting the wild idea of hiking a segment of the PCT.

Cheryl started her adventure without any preparation or hiking experience. Her personal determination pushed her through, in spite of her aches and pains. It was inspiring to see that she accomplished her goal in this book.

The serious problem I have with this book relates to the subtitle “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. I noted a kid that was truly lost, but I never saw a moment where she actually “found” herself. Her seriously maladaptive behavior habits persisted through the end of the book, including fits of anger, willingness to do anything to be loved, unwillingness to give of herself for any friend or stranger, serious inability to manage her money and her time, inability to control her insatiable habit of escaping reality through drugs, alcohol, friends or personal torture, and inability to have an honest personal reflection on her own problems and the reasons that drove her to despair in the first place. She treated her siblings and parents (both biological and other) in a highly utilitarian fashion, and the entire book focused on Cheryl and herself, not Cheryl in a world to serve and show love to.

The entire significance of her partial hike of the PCT is shadowed by the fact that she doesn’t mention later attempting to actually do the whole trail from Mexico to Canada in a serious fashion, without hitchhiking half the way or bypassing large sections. Perhaps she has, but she doesn’t mention that in the book. Her inability to truly come face-to-face with herself in an honest fashion leaves me wondering why I would expect her new marriage, even though it also involves two children, will ultimately to be any better than her last, or  any better than that of her mother and biological father. I wait pensively for the final outcome, or the outcome of her children who will also be trained to avoid reality. I am a touch mystified that the Pacific Crest Trail Association has made her a poster child, considering that she is anything but what one would consider an exemplary thru-hiker.

Or, did the PCTA choose Cheryl because perhaps she had a nice writing style that caught Oprah’s attention? I have yet to find a book that Oprah recommended that I would rate highly. Perhaps Oprah and I have polar opposite value systems? Is it that Oprah likes to see people that are caught in their own personal sewer in life? Does she like to think people who dishonestly air dirty linen without baring their true souls are admirable, those that blame their circumstances and never acknowledge their own guilt? Is it that Cheryl is a feminist, other values be damned? Is it that Cheryl would use her sexuality to play and control men, and yet when men responded to her flaunted sexuality she felt threatened? Doesn’t this fit the Oprah styled mindless group-think of our generation?

This is not the story of a lost child finding redemption, and I mean to be using redemption in a non-Christian or religious fashion, similar to Max finding redemption in the Freischutz opera, or Tannhäuser finding redemption in the opera after his name, or der Professor and Elizabeth finding redemption in Goethe’s Faust. We might witness a slightly more organized or purposeful Cheryl at the end of the story, we might have a Cheryl who has been able to calm the scream of demons from her past shouting in her head, but we don’t have a Cheryl that has become, taking the figurative language that Cheryl borrowed from John Newton, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see”. Perhaps Cheryl needs to meet the Jesus of John Newton, and not the Jesus of the PCT?

Two more PCT books

November 29th, 2015

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The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion, by Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith ★★★★

I had previously read and reviewed Berger’s book on hiking the triple crown. She is trained as a classical pianist, but has written numerous hiking and scuba diving books. This is an updated text, with the help of Dan Smith, of a previous edition that she authored. Rather than offering strategies for hiking the trail, this is a book offering more descriptive aspects of the trail itself. She goes section by section, starting in Campo and ending in Manning, BC, describing the trail, the wildlife, plants, geology and other items of interest. She gives suggestions on sites to see, where to do layovers, problems that one might expect, as well as short hikes in each section for the week-end PCT’er. She writes well, and this book was quite an easy read, yet giving solid advice about the trail. Since I am quite familiar with many segments of the Oregon/Washington trail, she seemed to be right on about her descriptions. She’s honest about telling one about the great as well as horrible segments of the trail, giving advice on how to deal with that. I liked her writing style. Though the subtitle suggests that this is a book that one would bring with them, that would not be a good idea at all. Read it before, know its contents, and then bring your maps as the accompaniment.

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The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook, by Ray Jardine ★★★★★

For those in the know, Ray Jardine is the godfather of ultralight backpacking. At first I thought it to be a foolhardy and dangerous way to manage a backpacking trip. Since reading many books on ultralight backpacking, I am now realizing that it is the smart way to go for long-distance hiking, though with a few exceptions. Jardine writes well, and he reads well. He started life professionally as an aeronautical engineer, but is quite experienced with the outdoors, being into rock climbing, having hiked the entire PCT both north ways and south ways multiple times, and having taught for many years as an Outward Bound instructor. This book was an invaluable read, offering page after page of sage advice. Ray tends to be a little bit nutty in spots. His methods of hygiene, especially in restaurants, is rather strange. His dietary habits are peculiar, especially with his love for corn pasta. (Yes, I will try corn pasta on my next pack trip, but fail to find it physiologically superior to other forms of nutrition). Oftentimes, Ray offers advice that he doesn’t follow, but he will usually give you an explanation as to why he is different. Toward the end of the book, there is invaluable advice on how to strategize your PCT hike in both a south and northbound direction. Sadly, his advice on PCT planning is not reproduced in his subsequent publications, and this text, written in 1992 and updated in 1996 is somewhat outdated. I wish he would update his PCT specific book. Other bits of advice need to be taken as advice only. For example, I do agree that the lightest shoes possible are imperative, yet, my Vasque hiking books are the only backpacking shoes I’ve ever been able to wear and not get blisters. I recently tried some trail running shoes for a backpack trip that was quite short and flat, and was cripple up with foot (arch) pain for weeks afterwards, though I never got blisters. He advises sewing your own backpack, sleeping quilt and some clothing, which I will have to pass on. As an older hiker, some attention to sleeping comfort is in order, which might add a few more ounces to the pack. Hopefully, I can keep my basic pack to under 12 lbs, rather than 8.5 lbs that Jardine shoots for. That 12 lb weight would still be an advantage to me. Of course, having somebody to hike with allows one to unload some stuff on the partner, like the tent or the stove and stove fuel, which seems to be the way to go. I appreciate Jardine’s stance against horses on the trail, which truly destroy any footpath, and remove the true wilderness experience for the adventurer. I disagree with Jardine regarding safety aspects for the trail, such as signage, and occasional shelters in high risk areas. I also have no issue with occasionally creating a trail with dynamite. I am quite sure that Jardine has enjoyed the Eagle Creek alternate to the PCT in northern Oregon, or the Kendall catwalk, both of which required a few sticks of dynamite to our betterment. Perhaps an explanation for my stance is that we are required to care for the earth, but that the earth was created for our enjoyment– it is an anthropocentric view of the universe, but which doesn’t give us license to pollute or destroy earth as we have. In all, this is one of the “must-reads” before attacking the PCT.

Of the three books that I’ve found most helpful, this, Berger’s, and Yogi’s handbooks, Yogi’s rates #1, with this in second place, good for its ultralight advice, but outdated regarding PCT planning advice. Berger’s is a close third.

Bike Touring and Bikepacking

November 29th, 2015

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Bike Touring and Bikepacking, A Falcon Guide, by Justin Lichter and Justin Kline ★★★★

I recently reviewed several books that Justin Lichter had written on ultralight backpacking, and so found this book of interest since I also love bicycle touring. It is easy to read, and very well illustrated. The emphasis seems to be mostly on cycle touring off of the pavement, and often in unusual situations, such as through the snow, or in remote foreign countries. The book has helpful advice on food, camping, and how to maintain your bicycle. Much of the advice was repeated from his other hiking textbooks. Though he has several chapters on choices for bicycles and panniers, these are insufficiently detailed to be at all meaningful. I appreciated the book since it is taking bicycle touring to further levels, with off the road or gravel road excursions. I find the book not entirely satisfying since it is very cursory on bicycle details, and the camping aspects could be found in any backpacking book, including his own books.

More PCT media reviews…

November 14th, 2015

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Are You Ready to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail? by Jim Hill ★★★ Read on Kindle
I have already read (and reviewed) several chronicles of people who hiked the PCT. I selected this since it was highly recommended on Amazon.com, and was done by a person close to my age. Jim had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, and wrote a book on it. I presume he will next hike the Continental Divide Trail and write a book. Jim writes well, and it is fun to follow his story. He doesn’t talk much about planning the hike or decision making during the hike, and tends to lapse on details about the trail that would have been quite easy to chronicle. He spends minimal time describing how he approached various problems on the hike, such as water in the desert (just “toughed it out since I was from New Mexico”)  food issues, bear and critter issues, river fording, or issues of communication. You learn a lot about a dental problem half way through the hike, and other trivial problems that Jim deals with. The result is book that is not terribly helpful at helping one plan a complete hike. The story is fairly uneventful (which one would want when the thru-hike the PCT) and so lacks in those qualities which make a book a gripping tale.  It is nice to see that an old goat like myself can comfortably do the PCT, and for that, it was an inspiration.

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Lip-Smackin’ Backpackin’, by Christine and Tim Conners ★★★★
This book is mostly a cookbook for trail food. Many of the recipes called for much home preparation, including using a food dehydrator, and a few expected a modest amount of attention to the stove while on the trail. Many of the recipes were not particularly appealing to me, but probably would do fine on a hike, as we all learn that one’s appetite changes quite extremely once one is in on a trail for more than a week. Thus, some of these recipes will definitely be worth trying out. The greatest value in this book is the first 42 pages, where the authors talk about planning and preparing meals for the “big” hike. With those concepts in mind, it would not be challenging to come up with a set of one’s own recipes for a successful trail gourmet.

WildWild, starring Reese Witherspoon, based on the book by the same name, authored by Cheryl Strayed★★★
This is movie that Betsy and I watched on DVD, and is apparently based on a true story. Reese does a good acting job, and quite hilarious at times, such as her first attempt to put on her massively overweight backpack. I give the movie four stars for the acting and cinema photography, and one star for the story line itself. It  is not a book that I would be interested in reading. Cheryl apparently was living a rather screwed up life in Minnesota, and decided to take a long hike on the PCT to resolve issues such as problem marital and sexual relationships, the death of a mother, and drug addiction. In spite of very poor mechanisms for resolving problems (such as losing a shoe), she amazingly survives the trail, and completes the PCT from Mojave to Cascade Locks. I did not enjoy watching a pathological person behaving in a pathological fashion… it wasn’t cute. I did enjoy Reese’s acting, and the filming was phenomenal. It makes me want to do the trail some day before I get too old.

The Snapping of the American Mind

November 14th, 2015

SnappingKupelian

The Snapping of the American Mind, by David Kupelian ★★★★★

The title of this book had an immediate appeal to me, since I also think that we are now witnessing mass insanity with the American public. Kupelian works for an internet news site called World Net Daily, and is one of the contributing editors to the site. He also has written several other books, one that I have previously reviewed, “The Marketing of Evil”.

Kupelian takes aim at a number of aspects of American “group-think” that has gone off the deep end. These include…

a) The media is the first subject of attack, noting how it has become malignant in its attack against what they consider outside of their personal worldview. Whether it be promoting hate for conservative politicians, or obscene anti-religious erotic art, or labeling conservatives as terrorists, the loss of civility in the media has been heavily influential on snapping the minds of its audience.

b) We have blurred our historical values to be unrecognizable and definitely anti-Judeo-Christian. A replacement with Marxist philosophy has happened almost unnoticeably, and is often confused with just another variety of Christianity, a kinder and gentler version.

c) Government and other movements sowing seeds of disinformation in society that is intended to unsettle the foundations of our current government and bend the minds of the hoi polloi into a socialistic mindset. Discussion about the Alinsky revolutionary methods of confusing the public and breeding revolt are explained and developed.

d) Words have become meaningless. The traditional meaning for normal words no longer mean what we “think” they mean. This has bred such confusions as the movement for political correctness and Orwellian opposite definitions (eg freedom is slavery, war is peace, etc.).

e) Urban vs. rural issues. Kupelian notes that the radical division is not with conservatives vs liberals, or Democrats vs Republicans, but almost entirely urban vs rural. The way our nation votes and acts can almost be predicted on whether you live in the big city, or out in the countryside. Cities have become the hotbeds of confused ideology.

f) Kupelian discusses the drug wars, in which I slightly disagree with him, in that he labors long over marijuana, which has been a silly drug to outlaw, and certainly not as destructive as alcohol. Yet, he is correct that drugs are a problem in American society with our massive use of anti-psychotic, antidepressant, anti-ADH, anti-whatever drugs that are hawked on the public.

g) America seems to be addicted to anything and everything, from drugs, to overeating, to pornography, to alcohol, to whatever, and that rather than call it a “sin”, it becomes medicalized and treated as an illness like the chickenpox.

h) America has allowed itself to become entirely confused as to gender issues. Developing the idea that kids can mis-interpret themselves in the problem of anorexia nervosa, it seems to follow that gender identity issues may be similar. Except that the new American public thought sewer, children should be allowed to be confused regarding sexual identity. How sexual identity issues could be promoted and institutionalized  remains a massive delusion.

Solution? Kupelian first argues that America needs to get a grip on themselves and wake up to the problem. He frets at a solution, since “while a deluded president can be replaced at the next election, one cannot replace a deluded population”. Kupelian discourages defeatism and encourages making one’s voice noted, whether at the voting booth or in public forum, or in acts of public disobedience. He encourages taking care of the self, whether it be by nutrition and exercise, meditation or rest. The gist of his encouragement is to rise above anger and bitterness, and combat the current world system as a faithful Christian.

This summary is very short, and the book is loaded with facts, figures and stories of either the mindlessness of our society, or ways in which people have enacted to “fix” our system. I agree with his analysis of the problem. His stated solution is weak.

One item that might be contended with in this book is that when he argues that the American mind has snapped, he makes the bold assumption that his own mind hasn’t snapped.  Without a reference point, it is impossible to know whether one is personally insane, or the remainder of the world is insane. David provides (without actually using this terminology) that his reference point is the Almighty God as found in the Judeo-Christian Bible. The ultimate judge of mankind will be eternity, and I believe that that judgement will be a personal judgement by an infinite personal God. Thus, though many devout Christians with a liberal political mindset will take offense of much of what Kupelian has to say in this book, I appreciate that Kupelian argues from a Scriptural base without a strain on Scriptural interpretation, and that most conservative Christians regardless of theological or denominational stance would agree with the Scriptural spin that Kupelian offers. The only disagreements may be in the solution(s) to the problem, and not identification of the American problem.

Four Books on the PCT and backpacking

November 2nd, 2015

After visiting Stehekin and seeing groups of thru-hikers on the last segment of the PCT, a long desire to some day hike the PCT has again resurrected itself. This may be problematic, in that a) I’ll need to find somebody to do it with, b) I’ll need to get Betsy’s support, c) I’ll need to find 5-6 months from April through September to take off to do this. Possible? Yes. Probable? I don’t know. I also wish to do some long-distance bicycling in the near future. There is a bicycle route (called the Sierra Cascades route) that roughly parallels the PCT, which I would do first, and have already talked my kid brother into doing it with me. After that, we’ll have to see if I still have the flame for grand adventures. Let me know if you are interested in joining me!

PCTGray

The Pacific Crest Trail, by William Gray with the National Geographic Society, published in 1975 ★★
This book was read by me mostly out of historical interest in the trail. It was written when the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) was still under development, and many sections of the trail had not been fully carved out. I believe that the entire trail happens to now be intact, and often different from where Gray hiked. From reading the book, it sounds like he did not do a “thru-hike”, that is, a solid hike from Mexico to Canada, but hiked in sections, mostly to glean photographs and stories for the National Geographic Society. He also engages about ¾ of the book in detailing character sketches of people he met on of the trail, or in proximity to the trail. Thus, it fails as a description of the PCT itself, but is typical of the writing and journalism that one would find with National Geographic Society publications. It’s cute to see that the people in the photos are all typical for 1970’s hippies.
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Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook 2016-2017, by Yogi (aka Jackie McDonnell) ★★★★★
This is the best book that I’ve read so far on the PCT, and is much a reference book (the entire last half of the book is intended to be torn out of the book to be taken with you on the hike) as it is a how-to book and book detailing what to expect on the trail. Yogi (her trail name) includes comments from other thru-hikers regarding how they did the PCT. Yogi covers diverse actions as to what to carry in your backpack, what to wear, how to do camp, how to plan, how to resupply, and how to stay out of trouble. Because she includes comments from other hikers, you realize that there will be no one set way to do the PCT. Most importantly, one learns what NOT to do, like overpack, under hydrate, or not be prepared. She writes well, and seems more connected than any of the other PCT advice books that I’ve seen. The reference section is absolutely invaluable, and is exactly what one needs to know. As an example, she has rough maps of the resupply towns, so that one doesn’t need to wander aimlessly to find where the local hotel, restaurant or grocery store might be located. Reading the book is almost like having Yogi actually there, giving you advice about how you might survive and succeed on your first thru-hike. Long-distance through-hiking has a completely different style than a 2-14 day backpacking trip, including what you eat, how you camp, and how you treat yourself. Yogi gives great advice on these differences, and how to have a comfortable and good time while doing that. Hopefully, I will meet Yogi on the PCT. She’s a real inspiration to get out there and just do it!

TrailTestedLichter

Trail Tested, A thru-hiker’s Guide to Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking, by Justin Lichter ★★★★
This book is very similar to a book I reviewed in 2013 by Andrew Skurka on ultralight backpacking. Similar to Skurka, Lichter is a “professional” hiker, i.e., he seems to spend more time hiking than working at a “job”, and has thru-hiked the Triple Crown (Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and PCT) with repeats of those listed, as well as other long distance hikes, foreign and domestic. Justin (Trail name “Trauma”) details style of thru-hiking, as well as offering equipment recommendations. Many of these recommendations seem to have a sponsor influence, but at least he lets you know that. The book is well written and well illustrated, with many personal anecdotes. I acquired it as a package deal from Yogi.

UltralightLichter

Ultralight Survival Kit, by Justin Lichter ★★★
This book repeated much of what was in the book Trail Tested. It is a small, short book on many of the problems and dangers one can encounter on the trail, and how to deal with them. Hopefully, one is moderately aware of everything in this book before they set out alone on the trail, as I’ve encountered many of the issues that this book brings up. If you own Trail Tested, this book is mildly superfluous. It was also part of the package deal from Yogi.

Four views on the Historical Adam

October 12th, 2015

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Four Views on The Historical Adam; edited by Caneday, Barrett and Gundry; contributors Lamereux, Walton, Collins, Barrick, Boyd, and Ryken ★★★ Read on the iPad Kindle app.

This book addresses the issue as to whether there actually two real people, Adam and Eve, that once existed, were the very first human beings, and were responsible for producing the entire human race. Four views are provided, though, in reality, there were only two views, one being that there was not, and one being that there was a historical Adam. Two variants of that belief structure were discussed. Those that argued against a historical Adam held to theistic evolution in several different forms, and those who argued for a historical Adam held to either an old earth or young earth creationism. I read the book with the stance of old-earth creationist, and this book did nothing to either supplement nor dissuade my concept of what I take the Bible and science to be really saying, save to reinforce my thinking that theistic evolution is definitely on the wrong track. Though I personally know one of the contributors (C John “Jack” Collins), I’ve never discussed this topic with him, and so doubt the acquaintance influenced my personal belief structure (he took the stance of a real Adam in an old-earth creationist scheme).  The book has one fatal flaw, in that one’s belief regarding creation/evolution tends to influence one’s belief regarding Adam, and the two issues cannot be separated. Thus, the issue of creation/evolution is a primary issue, with the issue of Adam being secondary to one’s creation belief. It is impossible to separate the two, and so the book is as much an argument for a view of creation as a view of Adam’s existence.

Rather than to detail arguments for each position, I’d like to simply pick out a few high points and then offer my personal reflections. Lamereux was the first discussant, taking a view that there was no historical Adam, and providing an evolutionary creation view. Lamereux is desperate to persuade the reader that he indeed remains a devout “evangelical” Christian by starting with a lengthy recounting of his conversion and orthodox beliefs. Oddly, he is deeply offended by remote suggestion from the young earth creationist (Barrick) about the validity of his Christian faith, ending his rejoinder with some a off-handed and inappropriate response to Barrick. He seemed to be behaving like Shirley McClaine at the Oscars, desperate for others to show their approval of her performances by commenting how much some people really loved her. Collins was a delightful read, though he perhaps spends too much time trying to find contemporary movie quotes to drive his points home – they are entertaining and effective all the same. I am a little bit puzzled at everybody’s response to the young earther for not being “scientific” enough. Barrick approached the issue of Adam from a nearly strict biblical perspective, and why would somebody complain about that?

The last two contributors, Boyd and Ryken, provided a “pastoral” perspective of the issue, Boyd arguing that it really doesn’t matter, and Ryken arguing that is really DOES matter what we believe about Adam. These comments were probably unnecessary and did not contribute to the value of the book.

Reflections on the book
I read this book at a scientist (PhD in cell biology [Anatomy]) and a Christian, and only peripherally interested in the creation/evolution debates. From reading the Amazon.com reviews of this book, it seems that most reviewers did not change from pre-existing stances regarding this book. The quality of the discussion was measured by how vigorously a discussant agreed with the reviewer’s existing beliefs. As mentioned before,  I find it strange that Barrick came under fire for choosing to offer a solid biblical (though perhaps wrong) argument, without offering a biblical/exegetical rebuttal. This suggests to me that the fundamental problem is not the issue of who could make the best logical argument, but rather, whether the readers have all lost faith in the preeminence of Scripture as the only sure authority in life. Several contributors seemed to regard the scientific concordists as synonymous with morons and buffoons, using it as a derogatory insult if perhaps somebody actually had the naive notion that the bible lacked scientific error (i.e., that passages that had “scientific error” were automatically designated as “poetic” in genre and thus to not be taken literally).

As a scientist, I love science, and had great delight in working in a laboratory, and extracting new truths from the world. I have nothing against science, but never allowed science to trump Scripture. Science was always viewed through “scripture” colored lenses. My work in science also demonstrated how unreliable science can be. I am deeply troubled by how both Lamereux and Walton demonstrate a stronger, more unwavering faith in the scientific methodology than in Scripture itself. They express lofty confidence in the same science that I consider dismally weak. If my PhD thesis were based on the same strength of argument and evidence as most evolutionary theory, it would have been summarily rejected. Lamereux’s conversion to evolutionism seems to have equal eminence to his conversion to faith in Christ.

Schlossberg (Idols for Destruction) has noted that the greatest enemies of the church have come from within the church, by its own members. Thus, a testimony of faith in Christ only makes me a touch wary when the Christian seems to be talking biblical nonsense. I have heard and met Francis Collins at serious medical conferences, delighted in his scientific talks, and appreciated his witness for Christ, yet remain concerned as to how the BioLogos evolutionary theology concept is destroying the church. Two of the book editors quoted J.G. Machen in the opening preface. They did not mention that Machen was at one time a student at Tübingen in Wittenberg, Germany, and nearly persuaded to convert to liberal theology through the pious behavior of the extremely devout professors at the university. Devout they were, but their teaching has destroyed much of the church, and forced Machen to develop his stance against the theological liberalism of Germany. I suspect that (to my dismay)  theistic evolution will eventually gain a stronger stance in Christian circles, and the 21st century scientific believers will have completed the destruction of Scripture as begun by the redaction critics of Tübigen.

There are controversies within the realm of the strict Biblicists, and I’m not saying that all is totally clear. Was a flood a flood that involved the known world, or did it involve the entire earth? What exactly was the tower of Babel and what happened there? What was the time frame for the diversity of languages in the tower pericope? Were the days of Genesis “God days” or 24 hour periods (I prefer the God-day reading, based on Augustine’s argument for a philosophy of time that explains this [see Paul Helm Eternal God for a discussion of this issue]). There are many issues of controversy where the Hebrew or Greek isn’t perfectly clear, and I defer to the language scholars for a most plausible explanation, so long as the arguments remain Biblical in their substance.

Boyd foolishly argues that one does not need to believe in Adam to be saved. Nobody will disagree with that. Yet, he doesn’t offer what   fundamental quantity or quality of belief is required to be saved. To believe in Christ is to believe in his Word, and to trash Scripture is to then believe in a non-Scriptural christ that doesn’t exist. I can’t define where the edge of the cliff is which defines the dividing point of orthodoxy from heresy, and can only encourage Christians not to tempt the edge of the cliff by challenging the ultimate authority of Scripture. To not believe in Adam makes the garden pericope and fall pericope to be a fanciful fiction on the order of reading the Gilgamesh epic, which in turn makes it logically impossible to explain the need for “salvation” and for a “god-man” to die for man.

Lamereux does not express logical conclusions that could come from forcing “scientific” conformity to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have seen the argument that since God  MUST remain faithful to his own created laws of creation, that he would never interfere with the evolutionary process, or any other natural process that occurs in the created universe. This means that miracles (as we would call them) in Scripture could not have happened. So, how did things in Scripture occur? God used space aliens with advanced scientific knowledge to cause the so-called “miracles”. Even the virgin birth of Christ was a result of space aliens, who abducted Mary, harvested her DNA and excised the “sin-gene”, then impregnating Mary to create the Christ. If you are laughing your head off right now as to such preposterous claims, you might wish to wake up and realize that such claims are MORE believable than the Francis Collins Biologos theistic evolution claims. Once God (and his word, as found in Scripture) are demoted, and science and the “laws of nature” given preeminence, then many claims, regardless of their outlandish nature, acquire credibility. To this end is where I fear the 21st century church is going.

The Greatest Comeback

October 12th, 2015

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The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Patrick Buchanan ★★★★

This is a delightful book to read, providing the reader with an inside view on the workings of politics in the circle of the presidency. Patrick Buchanan could provide that for Richard Nixon when he ran for president a second time in 1968, as Pat was one of the principle speechwriters and policy setters for Nixon during his campaign that led him to the White house in 1968. One gets the feel for the internal in-fighting among each of the two parties, and strategies that Nixon took to lead to his victorious campaign for the presidency. Principle tactics included taking great pains to  bring unity to the Republican party, avoid the radical fringes of the party, but to never ever bad mouth or speak thoughtlessly of other members of the Republican party. Pat provides a description of Nixon that is much different from that of the press, and even that of Chuck Colson in the books he wrote about his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Nixon, though occasionally moody, tended to be thoughtful, conciliatory, eager to seek and take advice from both his close confidants as well as liberals that he disagreed with. Patrick is a touch self-serving, in that he was probably as responsible as anybody for Nixon’s ultimate success. Contrary to the belief of some, there is not painted an internal conspiracy that pulled Nixon into the presidency, that is, unless Buchanan was lying through his teeth in this book. I trust Buchanan as having a high level of integrity, though perhaps unaware of the internal machinery that ultimately drives this country. At the very end of the book, Patrick Buchanan suggests that a sequel is in the works that details his knowledge of the ultimate downfall of Nixon—I will greet it with even more interest than this book.

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital

June 7th, 2015

CountyAnsell

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, by David Ansell ★★

David Ansell offers his personal reflections as a resident and then junior attending in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. This book was to complement another recent read by Dr. Guinan et. al. titled The History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital. Having been a resident in surgery at CCH from 1982 to 1989, this book was of great interest to me. I do not recall ever having encountered Dr. Ansell, but there was minimal contact between the surgical and internal medicine residents at the County. Part of the reason for that was the highly inconsistent care that our patients received under the internists at CCH, necessitating that we as surgeons care for most diseases that would usually fall in the realm of needing an internist.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I appreciated DR. Ansell’s candor and honesty, which was not always seen in the History of Surgery. Ansell was willing to speak at length about the wantonly corrupt Chicago politics and how CCH was considered by the politicians as a nuisance rather than a necessity for the county. He spoke at length about a system completely overwhelmed, and yet ignored by the powers in public office. He gives a nice feel about the frustrations of a doctor in that system trying to do the best to provide for the patients that come under his care.

Unfortunately, Ansell is over-burdened by his ideology, and this has controlled his behavior as a CCH physician to an extreme degree. Ansell is at least honest about how his was a public agitator, and often acted against his superiors to promote his vision of “the good”. Yet, he remains completely blind to how his personal politics and behaviors have perhaps made matters worse rather than better for the poor of Cook County. He labors hard to expose the corrupt Democratic machine that runs Chicago, yet offers no alternative to that Democratic machine, speaking very demeaningly of the other political party. His oft repeated delusion that “health care is a right” (i.e., and not a privilege) suggests that Ansell will not be happy until at health care in the US is reduced to the quality found at CCH, so that there is an equalization of care among the “rich” and the “poor”. I’m sure that even then Ansell would be a dis-satisfied character.

I was particularly annoyed when Ansell spoke so disparagingly of my mentor, Dr. G. Dr. G. happened to be Bangladeshi in origin, probably one of the finest surgeons I had ever met in my life, and a role model of acting in a thoughtful and non-discriminatory manner. The entire episode of his interaction with Dr. G. suggests to me that Ansell was more a blind ideologue than a brilliant innovator. This is not unusual for the Chicago system, and we are now having to suffer under a community activist but now national Führer from this same corrupt Chicago  system.

That Ansell now sits on the Cook Country Board for the hospital is testimony that Stroger Hospital will be the same failure that its predecessor was.  I wish that Ansell could spend a lengthy amount of time working in a truly destitute health care system, such as I have done in Extrem Nord Cameroon or in Bangladesh, to see that a bleeding heart doesn’t solve the problem of disparity in health care. Ingenuity does allow for solutions that Ansell (and for the most part, the entire American health care system) will not allow. This has nothing to do with financial reasons, but rather for legal, sociological, political and ideological obstructions to providing for the poor.

I’ll mention just one example. Ansell heavily criticizes the large open wards that once were at Cook County Hospital. I’ve never had a patient complain about that, and we as physicians would work hard to preserve the privacy of our patients. Yet, the large ward allowed a nurse to quickly assess in a few glances if everything was ok. I would frequently ask a patient to watch out for the patient in the bed next to them if they were doing poorly, and to report that immediately to the nurse. A little care was able to prevent the spread of infection from one patient to another. The total cost of care was vastly less for the same quality as the private rooms that we now have throughout the US.

I read this book a bit frustrated and with great disappointment–Ansell seemed to care for the indigent patient of CCH, but allowed his personal ideology and obnoxious behavior to dominate his stay at the County. For that reason, this book would  be most fittingly titled “Clueless at County”.

A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital

June 4th, 2015

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A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital, edited by Patrick Guinan, Kenneth Printen, James Stone, and James Yao ★★★

This book was of great interest to me, since I did my residency at Cook County Hospital during the years 1982 -1989. At that time, we were never given much of a history of the place. There was the operating amphitheater which was being used as a large storage area. There was Karl Meyer Hall, which was rarely used except as a place to grab some food at the 1st floor cafeteria, as we usually slept in unused beds at the hospital when on call. There was Karl Meyer’s residence, which was then being used as the trauma office. We were never really told much about Karl Meyer, or how Cook County Hospital created so many legends. Thus, I found the book of great interest, and since I prefer to read books on my iPad, that is how I purchased the book. I have mixed feelings about the book.

First, the book was exceptionally poorly edited. Spelling errors and other errors were everywhere. The organization of the book created multiple repetitions, and a clear linear timeline of history of CCH was never well developed. The most early history, being that before the 1915-2002 building was erected, are sketchy at best, and not well laid out. I don’t get a good feeling as to how surgery developed in Chicago, and since Cook County Hospital was so dependent on the rise and development of Northwestern, Rush, University of Illinois, and Loyola University, the history of those residency programs should have been better described. The book is written in a manner that if one never set foot in CCH, they would have no clue as to what was being talked about–the book’s value is primarily for former surgery residents of CCH.  I get the feeling that the book was haphazardly slopped together without much thought for the potential audience.

Secondly, I was left with the feeling that surgery training at CCH was rather haphazard and chaotic, that instruction came mostly from the chief resident, and that attendings were not often present, owing to the voluntary nature of the surgical leadership. To some extent, that actually was my experience at CCH, with a mixture of absolutely superb attendings (such as Dr. Abcarian and Dr. Jonasson) and absolutely horrid, possibly even incompetent attendings, whose names will go unmentioned, though some were mentioned with praise in the book. The attitude of the residents at the time of my residency was of pompous arrogance that the CCH residency in surgery was the greatest in the world, and  that it was one of the few that truly produced consistently great surgeons. I didn’t see that at all. Perhaps the punishment of the system led some residents into a minor form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the abused become attached and fall in love with the tormentor. This book hints at such a possibility. Unintentionally, the book does more to disparage the training one received at CCH rather than compliment it.

Thirdly, there were many historical inaccuracies (or, perhaps, incomplete truths) in the book, at least related to the years that I was a resident. The real reason for Dr. Baker’s departure goes (and should go) unmentioned. The cause for Dr. Jonasson’s departure was greatly misrepresented, since she was fired by the Cook County Board, as we were told at the time. I’m left wondering about the real cause for Freeark’s departure, since he never again set foot in CCH. The editors chose political correctness, rather than indicting the most politically corrupt city & county government in the United States for poor management of their hospital. The “dirty laundry” of Cook County Hospital was swept under the rug, leaving us only half a history of the place. Other details were minor errors. For instance,  I remember some of the windows of the operating room still being able to be opened, and battling flies in the operating room. (Even in the 1980’s, we still occasionally used the windows at X-Ray view boxes and as air-conditioning units!) There is a mention of contending with the AIDs problem in the 1970’s, yet it wasn’t until 1987 that we knew enough about the HIV epidemic to take any actions, such as actually wearing gloves in the trauma unit when doing procedures.

Fourth, there was much history that was glossed over. What about the county jail on the 8th floor of the A building? How did the A building come to be? How did the Fantus Clinic emerge to the place and character that it was throughout the 1970’s – 1990’s? Could one have elaborated more on Karl Meyer and his living arrangement in the hospital? Surely there were anecdotes about the highly quirky elevator operators and other employees of the hospital that formed a special characteristic of the place. Many people with great histories were glossed over, such as Dr. Lowe in trauma, and way-too-short  histories of certain individuals such as Dr. Abcarian, Dr. Walter Barker in thoracic surgery and Dr. Jonasson, all true giants in the world of surgery.

There was much good in the book that made it enjoyable to read. I appreciated the elaboration of the development of various departments of the hospital. Most relevant were the development of the trauma unit and blood bank, both being nation’s first. Having worked in many of the departments mentioned, such as the orthopedic, colon rectal, thoracic, pediatric, and burn services, I would have appreciated having a better understanding of the history of the department when I was still a resident. Thirty years later, it is still fascinating to read about how these departments came to be.

The personal stories at the end of the book were a total delight. These stories and vignettes of the old County hospital make for the best memories. When I started surgical residency, one of my first encounters was with Dr. Robert S., who had just graduated from the County residency, and was then doing a fellowship in Cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Illinois. He would spend countless hours with me, relating stories of the Greeks, of cases that he had done, and how things worked at CCH. I am sure that virtually every resident that graduated from CCH has a book full of stories, myself included, of unusual and interesting events that transpired while serving at CCH. For me, there were stories in the ER dealing with drug addicts and prostitutes, the trauma unit with famous (infamous) criminals, with survival tactics while working the floor or taking call, with various quirks of attendings (both good and bad), and with living an experience that nobody could ever repeat at this time, since there is no more CCH.

It was with great sadness that I learned that the old hospital was removed and a new, much smaller facility was built in its place. Many of the buildings needed to be removed or were completely obsolete, such as the nursing building and Karl Meyer hall, as well as the Children’s hospital and the “A” building. The Children’s hospital also held the burn unit, and was so run down during my time as a resident, that it was downright spooky to go into. The only thing good about that building were the elevators, which were fun to ride. But, it is only fitting that the new hospital be named Stroger Hospital, as it is no longer Cook County Hospital. Cook County Hospital has died, and a new beast has arisen in its place. It is unlikely that Stroger Hospital will generate any surgical giants, save for total happenstance. Thus, I am delighted that a history of the old Cook County Hospital, written by those that had a long experience with the place, has been produced. For all its faults, this is still a history worth reading by those who have spent a few years of their life within those halls.

Two Brass Players’ Advice Books

March 13th, 2015


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Prelude to Brass Playing, by Rafael Méndez ★★★★★

Brass Playing is no Harder than Deep Breathing, by Claude Gordon ★★★★

These two books are very similar, in that they are written by the best of the best trumpeters of yesterday, offering advice to young (and older) students regarding improving their playing. Such topics as care of the horn, warming up, practice style, developing breath, developing embouchure and tone, increasing one’s range and speed are all covered. Mendez writes as though he was speaking directly to you, covers advice for the very young beginning trumpet player and their parents, and is more thorough than Gordon’s text on the nuances and discipline of trumpet playing. Both are worthwhile reads for trumpet players of any experience.

Bach Among the Theologians

March 4th, 2015

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Bach Among the Theologians, by Jaroslav Pelikan ★★★★★

This book explores the theology of Bach, written by an eminent conservative Lutheran theologian who taught church history at Yale University. It is a delightful easy read. JS Bach, while known as indubitably and unquestionably as the greatest composer to ever have walked terra firma, also had an interesting theological side to him. Bach was known to have an exceptionally large library of theological texts, and most of his texts were heavily annotated by him, as seen as column notes in all of his books in his own handwriting. An analysis of his musical output demonstrates that this interest in theology had a highly significant impact on the music that he wrote. In particular, Bach was caught in Germany during the struggles of Pietism (centered in Halle, not far from Leipzig), and the Aufklärung (Enlightenment) mentality. Pietism sought for a strong personal religion without the public sphere and without “fancy” music, which Bach strongly opposed, while in conjunct with the Pietists, pleaded in his music for a strong personal relationship with God. Contrary to the Aufklärung, which sought to “de-mythologize” the Scripture, Bach sought through his music to emphasize the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in opposition to Aufklärung thinking. Thus, Pelikan would call each cantata of Bach also a sermon in music by Bach.

Pelikan provides marvelous insights into the theological culture of Bach’s time, and shows how Bach confronted culture with his music. Much of the second half of the book details Bach’s thinking in the two existing Passions and the H-moll Messe. With the H-moll Messe (B-minor mass), Pelikan shows how Bach thoroughly “Lutheran-izes” the mass, making it a more Catholic mass than just the confines of the Roman Catholic church. Pelikan’s final discussions counter a contemporary move to make Bach an essentially secular thinker, highlighting the much smaller volume of Bach’s secular works. Even here, Pelikan is able to show that Bach is thinking sacred in his secular music, and that it is impossible to strip Bach of a religious, theological context.

This book is a must read for anybody that enjoys Bach and delights in vast array of music that he produced. It also gives one a greater interest in not only listening to the cantatas, but following along the words of the cantatas to hear the “sermon” that Bach is preaching through music.

Trumpet for Dummies

March 4th, 2015

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Trumpet for Dummies by Jeffrey Reynolds, PhD ★★★★

I generally would never give a “for Dummies” book above a 2-star rating, but this volume served a useful purpose for me, was informative, and easily readable, and so gains 4 stars. Reynolds give a very brief history of the trumpet, a description of how the trumpet works, and a brief description of the “language” of music. He thens spends a few chapters on how to learn to play the trumpet, and some advice on trumpet technique and beginning lessons. Later chapters deal with the paraphernalia that goes with a trumpet such as mutes, mouthpieces, etc., and how to care for your trumpet. Final chapters deal with mentioning current great trumpet players and general encouragement to develop the art of trumpeting. As a lesson book, it fails, as one needs nothing more than a good teacher, as well as a copy of Arban’s Conservatory Method and whatever other supplementary texts the teacher prefers (mine used Colin’s Lip Flexibilities and some of the Claude Gordon & Herbert Clark books).  The CD is designed to help with the early trumpet lessons, and I never took it out of its jacket, as I had no use for it. Reynolds gives good advice to the budding trumpet player, as well as a panoramic view of the world of the trumpet. It was a worthy purchase.

Andersens Märchen

November 22nd, 2014

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Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★

Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects, and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.

Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

Life is a Wheel

October 17th, 2014

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Life is a Wheel, by Bruce Weber ★★★

This book was given to me by my brother Gaylon in order to inspire us to bicycle across the USA someday (soon?).  Bruce Weber is a journalist for the NY Times, and spends most of his time writing the obituaries. He rode his  bicycle across the USA in 1993 as a much younger kid, and now at age 58 has determined to attempt the task again. This time, he will be frequently visited by NY Times personnel to document his trip, and blow-by-blow accounts will be published in the Times.

He takes off from Astoria, riding south, then through the Columbia River valley, up through the Palouse, across Idaho, across Glacier National Park and then northern Montana and North Dakota, descending in Minnesota and Wisconsin into Chicago, boats across Lake Michigan and rides through Michigan down into Indiana and Ohio, slowly weaving his way back to home in New York City.

This book has some strong merit. It definitely put the bug in me to do a trans-America bicycle trip. He relates that as a limited cyclist, he was able to survive nicely during his three months on a bike on the road.

There is more that I disliked about the book than liked.

1. His choice of routes was often very strange, and much different from what I would have done. He spent much time backtracking and traveling in very un-interesting environments. The object of cycling is not to see if you could possibly put yourself to sleep while riding a bicycle.

2. I could tell within the first few pages that Weber was Jewish. I felt like I was reading a bicycling counterpart to Woody Allen, who constantly “somatacized” his problems, and used a shrink in order to resolve those matters. Bruce writes about his health and mental problems almost with a sense of indifference, which is liked by New Yorkers but deeply disliked by me.

3. The diversions from the bicycle riding story were deeply annoying. I didn’t care to spend a whole chapter on his good friend that just died. I wasn’t interested in two chapters of a stupid ride in Viet Nam. I didn’t care about learning in-depth details of mother and father, which didn’t seem to relate at all to the bicycle riding experience. Fortunately, Weber avoids politics for the most part,  but can’t help but suggesting that he is a flaming (and clueless) liberal.

The bottom line is that Weber has provided additional motivation for me to ride across the USA. He has also instructed me to avoid many of the paths that he has taken. He is not a person that I would wish to take a long trip with, or for that matter, even to become a close friend with him. I’m sure he feels the same way about me. Perhaps the book should have been titled “Life is all about me on a wheel”.

The Space Trilogy

October 17th, 2014

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The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) by C. S. Lewis ★★★

This set of books was read on my iPad. Each book stands distinct from the other two, but need to be read in the order noted in order to make sense. Generally, I tend to give C. S. Lewis a 5-star rating for everything he writes. There is also a 5-star quality to much of what is contained within these stories, but the quality just doesn’t approximate what C.S. Lewis does elsewhere. In brief, Out of the Silent Planet is the most enjoyable read, and contains the most story telling. In this book, the lead character who is found in all three stories, Ransom, is kidnapped by two academic types who figure out how to make a spaceship to fly to Mars. On Mars, Ransom escapes the grasp of the two kidnappers, and encounter many alien types until he finally encounters the answer as to why he was brought to Mars. Mars is a world where the creatures have not experienced the “fall” as Adam and Eve did on earth. Perelandra is the story of Ransom now traveling to Venus, only to encounter one of the two kidnappers from Mars. he also encounters a very distinctly different female, in what amounts to be an pre-fall Adam and Eve story, with the kidnapper as the satanic tempter. In the end, Ransom kills the professorial colleague, and saves the planet. Throughout the first two books, Lewis would make lengthy divergences from the story to allow dialogue of a philosophical nature to transpire. Oftentimes, it is just not fitting, such as at the end of Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is over twice as long as the other two books, and is a story about an academic center in England which sells itself out to outside concerns (N.I.C.E.) and eventually degenerates into auto-destruct mode. This is probably the story closest to reality, in that it seems to be exactly what is occurring today in academia. I’m sure Lewis was writing from personal experience, but turning the experience into a science fiction tale in order point fingers at academia while not directing the criticism to any particular person or institution. This book was also the hardest to read, as it starts very slowly, and if you haven’t read it before, have a hard time determining where the story is leading you.

The philosophic statements in the three books are profound and make this trilogy a worthy read.  Lewis is especially hard on academia, but rightfully so, as he was able to predict where academia was heading and identify the driving factors that cause academia to fail in its mission.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

September 7th, 2014

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe ★★★

This book is said by many to have been one of the most influential books in all of American history. I don’t doubt that. It is actually an assembly of articles that Stowe wrote for a magazine, eventually assembled into book format. It is written like a true story, though it is a fiction supposedly assembled from examples of how slaves were treated in the antebellum south. Unfortunately, I would not call it great literature, and is definitely written with a strong political slant to it.  The book has two main stories to it, the first being a slave lady with her child that escapes to safety. Then, there is Tom, the good boy who always does what he is told, who ends up being sold to a tyrannical slavemaster, leading to his death.

The book is written in an inflammatory manner designed to show that while slaves may have kind and loving owners, the entire system of slavery was rotten to the core. Uncle Tom had some kind owners, yet the picture is always lurking that he is essentially nothing but somebody else’s property, and that only pure luck gave him sympathetic owners. Stowe uses religion heavily during the narrative, emphasizing that Tom was a very religious man. This seemed to be directed at southern theologians who vociferously contended for the religious propriety of slavery as an institution.

What do we make it this book 150 years later? We know the outcomes now, and so are somewhat prejudiced in our reading of this book. Needless to say, when Union armies came close to slave lands, at least 1/6 of the slaves would run to the union front. There are simple reasons to explain why it wasn’t 100% of slaves, as confederate lost cause writers try to impress on us that most slaves were loyal to their masters and would have stayed with them out of contentment for their situation. The fact is that the south did not take careful measures to protect abuses in slavery (if slavery itself is not itself considered a serious abuse). There is a large movement today to resurrect the thinking of the lost cause writers, and strangely, this is found most prominent among libertarians, who are the most vociferous about individual rights. Arguments in these camps abound about how the civil war wasn’t about slavery but instead state rights, taxes, or Lord only knows what. They love to make Abe Lincoln look worse than the devil himself. It would have been best if America did not have to go through the bloodiest war in its history with the civil war. Thomas Fleming in his book A Disease in the Public Mind (reviewed recently by me) identifies the real cause of the war was mass public insanity regarding the issue of slavery, both in the south and the north, that led to this war. This book about Uncle Tom flamed the insanity in the north, and southern intrenched arrogance inflamed the insanity of the south. Needless to say, I do NOT have southern sympathies, while contending with the issue of slavery without the inflammatory nature of this book would have been a better way to go about it.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

July 1st, 2014

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The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, by William Shirer ★★★

This book was read on my iPad. It is a fairly large book, taking me a while to complete it, thus, the absence of many other book reviews on my blogsite. Shirer was a journalist in Berlin, leaving Berlin approximately 1940-1941 (he doesn’t say exactly when), and then observing from the sidelines. The book is fairly well researched, and heavily referenced. After the end of the book, a 1990 afterthought is included by the author. He had noted that the book was on the best sellers list for a number of years, and purchased in many countries except for Germany itself. This Shirer felt was a sign that the German people still remained clueless as to the nature of their goose-stepping militaristic nature, and he expressed fears that the re-unification of Germany was going to lead to yet another rise to power and German world war. Perhaps the person the most clueless is Shirer himself. Throughout the book, Shirer writes not as an objective historian, but as an opinionated, biased journalist. Shirer seems to let his thinking and emotions get in the way of solid historical reporting. As an example, he shows his bitter disdain for the personality of Von Ribbentrop, rather than seeking to describe his personality and then letting the facts speak from there. He describes many episodes of secret meetings where he seems to be cognizant precisely what transpired. He makes warrantless broad assumptions about the German people that don’t serve his commentary. Here is an example, quoting the book, ” One gets the impression that … many … “Good Germans” fell too easily into the trap of blaming the outside world for their own failures, as some of them had done for Germany’s misfortunes after the first lost war…”. Excuse me, but the blame does spread around to all the European nations as well as the US. Or, of speaking of Mussolini, “…as dictator, he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by … false ambitions. The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism.” Such comments leaves one feeling whether they could take anything that Shirer says seriously. He truly couldn’t be serious in implying that the mass of German people were uncivilized, unsophisticated, not down to earth?  There are many more examples throughout the book.

Shirer provides a nice flow through the book and it is very readable. There is a wealth a facts that need to be selected out in writing any historical account, and the fact that huge numbers of texts have analyzed the Nazi phenomenon attest to the fact that even 60 years after the fact, we are still grappling with the problem of made Germany do what it did. Shirer provides a completely wrong explanation, but feeds western, and especially US arrogance in the matter. To divorce himself from the reality of Germany, Shirer had to paint the Germans as a different creature, perhaps even a different species or genus. To this date, political situations are so often compared to that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The left and right of politics continually hurtles the accusation at the other of being just like the Nazis. Why isn’t Stalin and the Communists equally brought up as a examples?Or Mao Tse Tung? Or the Japanese emporer? Or Napoleon? The list could go on at length. Germany is used as the example because sub-consciously, they are a people the most like us. They, more than any other modern country, developed the ideas of ethics that shape our world. They developed our philosophy, our music, our culture, etc. They, more than even England, gave us our work ethic, and our sense of obedience to authority. The rise of Nazi Germany seems to be a great puzzle, yet it isn’t. We see ideas in politics today reinforce that the events of the rise of the Nazi state happen on a smaller scale every year in Washington, D.C. We claim that the German people should have known and risen up, yet we don’t rise up, as our freedoms are constantly eroded, and our government increasing behaves in a dictatorial fashion that we have no control of. We claim a moral superiority to the Germans of the first half of the twentieth century, yet truthful soul-searching suggests that we aren’t much different than they.

To end it, Shirer ends with the execution at Nuremberg of the main Nazi officials. Specifically, Ribbentrop, who Shirer completely despised,  is reported as to have flippantly blurted out to the American Military pastor, “See you later” as though he was making a colossal terminal joke. Actually, the full quote is as follows… “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul”. Then he turned to Gerecke (the Lutheran pastor) and said “I’ll see YOU again”. In the book “War and Grace”, Don Stevens recounts the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran Pastor in the military from Missouri, who was assigned to be the chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. In the process of his encounters with Goering, Rosenberg, Ribbentrop, etc., he noted that not a few felt genuine remorse for their actions, and found faith in Christ, including Keitel, Fritzsche, von Schirach, Speer, Raeder, and after much struggle, Ribbentrop. Many Americans sent Gerecke hate mail, detesting the fact that he would minister to the Nazi war criminals. Yet, the additional story from Stevens only strengthens the impression that the Nazis are us. We might have done exactly what they did in the circumstances. The story of the Nazis is a sobering story that should make all of us weep, and not arrogantly state that “they” are a breed of another kind. For that end, a book like this is worth reading.

For All the Tea in China

June 10th, 2014

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For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose ★★★

Sarah Rose provides a most interesting story of the adventures of a Mr. Robert Fortune of the British East India Company in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s, stealing prized tea plants from China and exporting them to the Himalayas, under the immediate control of Great Britain, to permit them to compete with China in the tea industry. Also taken was the technology for growing and processing the tea leaves into great tea. It is a most fascinating story that is not often told. Fortune had several very unfortunate attempts, in part from bungling up the tea plants and leaves in the process of shipping them to the Himalayas, as well as incompetence and ineptitude on the part of arrogant British horticulturists, even when told by Chinese coolies what they were doing wrong with the plants.  Sarah’s writing style attempts a mix of pure historical reporting and historical fiction, leaving one certain that the tales of Fortune’s adventures were probably just approximately recounted in this book. Sarah maintains a heavy pro-British bent in her reporting, going very light on the evils of the British empire in their dealings with China (such as with the Opium Wars), as well as the Indians. This poor historical accounting even goes to British competitors in the west. When she speaks of the development of porcelain in the west to compete with fine “china” from China, she drools over Wedgewood and British porcelain manufactors, she blindly forgets the role of the Germans (especially the town of Meissen) in re-discovering and developing the European porcelain industry). A perfect example her Western blindness can be quoted from near the end of the book…

” By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them [the Chinese], it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices. He democratized a luxury, and the world has been enjoying it ever since”

That quote sounds warm and fuzzy except for a few glaring details. Now that China is reportedly “stealing” technology from the West, I suppose that they can use the same justification, since they are simply spreading Western technology at a much lower price. It is hard for me to have a sympathetic ear toward the west when they rail on China being an aggressive competitor in the markets. We are simply getting our own medicine back on us 150 years later. Most of the world has a better memory than Amerikans.

Cambridge Illustrated History of China

April 28th, 2014

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Cambridge Illustrated History of China, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey ★★★

I purchased this text from Amazon.com as a used book to read before and during my trip to China with Betsy and Dr. Liao. It arrived very heavily marked up with multiple pages folded over, not exactly what the seller suggested. This text is fairly comprehensive of all aspects of history,  and includes many  beautiful illustrations and helpful maps, unlike many Chinese history texts. The author attempts a newer style of history taking, focusing on “the man/woman in the street”, and de-focusing on the rulers and leadership. Unfortunately, it leaves the history of China seriously poorly explored, since the actions of the emporers had an immediate effect of the man in the street. Ebrey spends much time discussing the development of Chinese art and poetry, yet even that is poorly explored. I was left with a very poor impression of having learned much from this text about Chinese history.

The Divine Revelation

February 16th, 2014

DivineRevHelmThe Divine Revelation, by Paul Helm ★★★★★

This short little book is guaranteed to tie up hours of one’s time reading. It is a thoughtful reflection, not on the theology of divine revelation, but of the philosophy of divine revelation, i.e., is such an activity possible or probable to have happened. Helm writes mostly against the thinking of Karl Barth, and the post-modernists, both of whom, in many ways are similar is attesting for the unique role of the recipient who must turn the mere words of the Bible into spoken revelation. This book is not for the faint-hearted, as it is not written for easy bedtime reading. Perhaps philosophy majors will find this book to be light reading. Helm will challenge you to think through each word used.  As an example, he speaks of infallible truth, and then probes whether or not that is not a redundancy, since infallible and truth (at least in his [and my] world) is synonymous. Helm realizes that certain things are not logically provable, and doesn’t take the approach  of “proving” that special revelation (that is, revelation which could never be acquired by any other means) has occurred, but demonstrates the logical possibility of special revelation, as well as its consistency with Scripture. Not to be begging the question or arguing in a circular fashion, Helm has no problem arguing for the internal consistency with special revelation as found in Scripture as being its own proof. Certainly, the Scripture has more consistency than anything else out there.

I’ve now read and reviewed a number of Helm’s books. His books on providence, time, and special revelation stand as his major works. All are worth reading. Since he lives close (Vancouver, B.C.), I’d dearly love to meet him some day, or perhaps get him down for a mens group meeting at church. He is staunchly reformed in his thinking, and, as others have stated, probably the foremost Christian philosopher alive today. I would certainly agree. I might also refer the reader to Helm’s blog page, which always provides interesting reading ( http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com ).

 

Fixing Your Feet

February 10th, 2014

FixFeetFixing Your Feet, by John Vonhof ★★

Having had many blisters from my years of backpacking, I was quite eager for some advice on how to prevent blisters from happening, and what to do about it when they do occur. Thus, with this book recommended, I eagerly plunged into its 260 pages, hoping for concrete advice that would prevent the painful foot sore from ever happening again. The advice was quite mixed. The author repeatedly (and correctly) noted that everybody is going to have a different fix. Then, he repeatedly repeats much of what he says again and again and again. This book is not intended to be read straight through like I did. Considering that its on its 5th edition, my presumption is that the author started to throw in chapters here or there, without ever re-reading the book to see what he was duplicating. About a third of the book is taken up with anecdotes by other athletes regarding their worst blister stories, or their solution to a bad blister—not terribly helpful. Vonhof’s focus is on the long-distance ultra-marathon runner, including those people that run extreme races like the Death Valley run (which goes from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney), or the Marathon de Sables in southern Morocco across the Sahara desert. There was very little advice for long-distance backpackers who do not have massive support teams and need to consider weight as an important variable in preventing blisters.

The book was marginally helpful, as advice acquired here was available from most backpacking books. The first several chapters offered a summary  of all that was essential in the book. Subsequent sections on prevention and treatment of foot injuries of the long-distance runner, and not terribly applicable to hiking. Climbing foot problems were never mentioned where many of my blisters occurred, when the foot was in a very stiff and waterproof boot by necessity. Neither was mentioned foot problems with cross-country skiing, a unique time when the foot must be flexible but very warm.

If there are any changes to this book in subsequent editions, I recommend several things. First, the author should actually read through his book, and delete the bountiful repetition that occurs. Second, anecdotes need to be more selective, and advice ranked and categorized better. Advice was all over the board from not doing something to only doing the same thing, to extremely crazy things. We don’t need to know about the bizarre things that might have worked on one person, but rather what generally works, and what could be tried if general advice doesn’t work. Second, the author should create sections specifically for certain activities, since every activity is going to have different solutions. Thirdly, complex problems that require specialty treatment need to be stated clearly as such without lengthy details.

 

Hugh Latimer

February 1st, 2014

HughLatimerHugh Latimer, by Richard Hannula ★★★★★

This is a very short book, and can easily be read in a single evening. It is part of a  large series of “Bitesite Biographies”, so I presume is intended to be short and sweet. Dick Hannula is an elder in our church and also principal of the church high school. He is currently giving a sunday school series for the adults on the general content of this book. Latimer, with Ridley and later Cranmer, were burned at the stake by Queen Mary. Through the faithfulness of many of the early English reformers against incomprehensible odds, a candle was lit which led to England soon becoming a solidly reformed country. Mr. Hannula writes almost like he  speaks, and thus you get the feel when reading this book that Dick is speaking to you. Latimer is definitely a fascinating character, being the best mouthpiece of the Reformation in England. He possessed the preaching skills to persuade many to leave the heresies and false teaching of Rome and seek their comfort and trust in the Christ of Scriptures alone. Latimer also had an overwhelming concern for the poor, unlike most of the clergy of England who used their posts in the church for their own personal advantage. This is a good read which will leave you loving the man Hugh Latimer, and is a  brief episode of history that all English-speaking people should be aware of,  a nice reminder that the gift of religious freedom that we presently enjoy was won over many of faithful souls being burnt at the stake.

 

Cutting for Stone

January 20th, 2014

CuttingForStoneCutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★

This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.

Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.

This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.

 

Secret Thoughts

January 12th, 2014

SecretThoughts

 

Secret Thoughts, by Howard Clark, MD ★★★★

H.S. (Howard) Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I work, and he had been in the process of writing novels for a lengthy period of time now. This novel is a suspense thriller with an anesthesiologist, Paul Powers, as the detective, trying to solve a mystery of cyanide poisoning, leading to the death of a number of people, including a colleague of Powers, Valdimire Zhazinsky, who was a radiologist. As the mystery plot thickens, Paul is soon branded as the main culprit.  Paul departs on an international whirlwind effort to clear his name and to identify the real killer. I will not give the entire plot away. The text is not lengthy even though the book is thick since it is printed in rather large type, and so can be read in 1-2 evenings. Howard does an excellent job of keeping the action moving and keeping the reader in suspense.

One side story relates to the experimental use of a hypothetical drug picafentanyl, which puts people to sleep (like the real drug, fentanyl, which is commonly used in surgery). The problem with picafentanyl is that is secreted by the breath, and thus, when used, puts everybody in the room asleep. Though this novel kept me well awake, the next time Dr. Clark starts to put me to sleep in surgery, I’ll suspect that he might have been popping a bit of picafentanyl.

 

The Secret Providence of God

January 12th, 2014

Secretprovidence

 

The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg, and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.

Calvin

 

Where did he ever get that hat?

Lloyd M Nyhus

January 7th, 2014

LloydNyhusLloyd M. Nyhus, MD, FACS, Surgeon, Mentor, Visionary for 20th Century Surgery, by Michelle Rapaport with Donald Wood, MD, FACS ★★★★★

This was a delightful book to read because it was a part of my own personal history, as I had trained under Dr. Nyhus. Dr. Don Wood, of whom I had also gotten to know well, does a wonderful job of outlining Dr. Nyhus’s life from childhood to his death. Certainly, as one of the best known and great surgeons of the 20th century, this book was well due to Dr. Nyhus. My office still contains signed versions of the textbooks that he had published, and it was an honor to have trained under the man.

A book of this sort certainly could not contain many of the little things that made Dr. Nyhus a delight to work under. Every summer, we had a Department of Surgery picnic, for which I was in charge about 4 of the 8 years I was in Chicago. These were delightful events, for which I always made sure we ordered some Weisswurst for Dr. Nyhus. He would also have all of the surgery residents over to his house for a backyard picnic once a year, which was special. I always appreciated when he would randomly pick me to attend dinner at the University Club for a distinguished visiting professor. Nyhus had a delightful knack for making the residents feel like his boys.

This book is not a history so much as a tribute to Dr. Nyhus. It is written like an Egyptian pharaoh would write a history, in that it was not inclusive of the struggles and challenges of life at the U of Illinois. Nyhus, as the Delta/TWA professor of surgery was gone so much, that even though I was on his service a number of times, only operated with him 3-4 times in the total five years of my residency. Bombeck had several heart replacements, and in spite of that, was a chain smoker of such a serious degree that he rarely could tolerate more than 5 minutes scrubbed with me in the OR before he needed to step out for another smoke. Donahue was an attending than one never turned their back on.  Levitsky was blind as a bat, and very pompous. I shan’t be too negative. Olga Jonasson was technically the best surgeon of the group, and a delight to train under, even though she was as tough as nails. Dr. Abcarian was just an all-round wonderful surgeon to work with. Dr. Das Gupta was ultimately the best of the best of the whole bunch in my estimation, being a role model for me of excellence both in the operating room and in the laboratory. I usually end up calling myself a Das Gupta trained surgeon. Dr. Wood was in Das Gupta’s division of surgical oncology, and was one of most special attendings for me, in that he was not only a competent teacher and surgeon, but an example of the Christian faith in the world of academic medicine. There are many other surgeons under Nyhus that were not mentioned in this book that were true pillars in the residency, such as Drs. Nelson, Barrett, Sharifi, Briele, and Walter Barker, to name a few. Das Gupta, Wood, Abcarian and Jonasson deserve the highest honors in the grand scheme of things, though they would be too modest to admit that.

Regardless of any shortcomings, and they were minor, I consider it an honor to have trained under Dr. Nyhus. This book is a well written tribute to a man who could assemble a diverse bunch of surgeons to make without a doubt the best surgery residency in the world during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I feel blessed to have been a part of that experience.

 

Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors

January 6th, 2014

ChronicleChinEmpChronicle of the Chinese Emperors, by Ann Paludan ★★★

I’m trying to fill myself in with a little Chinese history in anticipation of a trip to China in April. This book was written more as a reference text. It is not  a very comprehensive text. The focus is entirely on the emperors of China, with occasion call-outs for special interest topics, examples being the pottery in China,  the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, various movements in China, etc. The book, if read from cover to cover, reads quite erratically with many gaps, such as a description of the warring states period. This text would be best used in conjunction with a formal history text to learn the most about Chinese history.

A Disease in the Public Mind

December 25th, 2013

DiseaseFleminghA Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming ★★★★★

I really didn’t wish to read another book about why the civil war was fought, but I loved the other books by Thomas Fleming that I had read, including The New Dealers’ War and The Illusion of Victory on the 2nd and 1st world war respectively. One grows weary of the discussions over the true reason for the civil war. Those with a southern sentiment with argue with religious conviction that it was not about slavery. Others will argue that it was about state’s rights. The most recent study by a well known tax historian made a very plausible account that it was about unfair taxation. Fleming addresses all of these issues, but mostly maintains a persistent thread through the historical accounts as to issue of slavery. Interestingly, Fleming seems to take neither a Northern nor Southern stance, but notes that both groups had lapsed into a spiteful sentiment towards the other, coupled with a religious fervor that disallowed compromise or discussion or resolution.  The preface paints the real dilemma of assigning a war clause, since neither the North nor the South had a large population eager to go to war to either abolish or maintain slavery. But, the issue of slavery became a form of public insanity, a disease of the public mind.

Fleming notes that slavery was a contentious issue from well before the Revolutionary war.  Slavery had no geographical boundaries, and both North and South at one time had slaves. The founders of the constitution realized that slavery would become a contentious issue, and some of the fathers of the Republic set their slaves free voluntarily. Everybody in the few years following the grounding of the constitution felt that slavery was inconsistent with the constitution, and wished for its eventual demise. Yet, over time, “religious” fervor in the north maintained an uncontrolled vitriolic tongue, while southern politicians hardened their once pliable stance on the right of slavery. The Senate and House became hotbeds of contention, with extensive discussions about nullification and the extent of federal power (but, all related to the ultimate issue of slavery), with the New England states first expressing the idea of succession. Over time, the radical abolitionists became irrationally cruel towards the south, all in the name of the Christian god. Conversely, the south developed the irrational fear of a race war similar to that which was experienced in Haiti, even though the circumstances in that island were much different that in the south. Even headed thinkers predominated on both sides, who refused to accept that the war was over slavery—for the north, it was the preservation of the union, and for the south, the preservation of their homeland. Both sides retained a pompous arrogance in the correctness of their part of the struggle at the war’s end. The anguish of the war stood largely on a few people, Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee being the two most spoken of in this book, both wishing a benevolent resolution of the conflict and of the anger that generated the war. The apotheosis of both men, Lincoln and Lee, by the north and south respectively, would probably have been greeted with disapproval by both men, who were greater than the prevailing thought of the time.

This book also adds some food for thought, that I’d like to add as a side note to the book review. It is interesting that the strict Libertarian camp (e.g. as found in the Lew Rockwell webpage) unrelentingly attacks Lincoln for diminishing the constitution and strengthening big government. The Libertarian blindness to unrestrained capitalism without a strong Christian moral base leaves for the naive thought that man is intrinsically good, and will always make consideration for the betterment of his fellow man. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and the wealthy will tend to dominate the weak at the expense of the weak. Libertarians will also argue that the constitution never demands the preservation of the union, yet it has always been interpreted as such, starting with George Washington himself. The constitutionalists bewail the notion that all we need to do is to return to the first principles of the nation—yet, the founding fathers clearly understood the defects in the constitution, and how decisions contrary to the strict interpretation of the constitution were made very early in the nation’s history. Theonomists will acclaim that the rule of God as stated in Scripture give the only laws that should exist in a nation, and that no laws should be added and no laws should be subtracted. While it is true that the law of God is perfect, the universal application of the civil laws of the OT in a godless society is a grand fantasy. Much more could be said about what would make a perfect government in an imperfect world, but the answer would always be that there is no perfect government either prescribed in Scripture or experienced in the history of mankind.

In the Civil War, both sides were fighting in the name of the same Christian God. Both sides used Scripture to defend their actions. Both held contempt for the other side as being evil and moral deviants. Both sides refused to acknowledge the Christian standing of their “opponents”. Our generation is noting the destructiveness of “love” without orthodoxy. The civil war generation showed a seeming opposite, the desire for “orthodoxy” without love. Though the disease changes, the USA persists with diseases of the public mind that cloud our ability to be true Christians. The civil war is a war that should have never been fought, but brought on by extremist zealots actions north and south in the nation. But, isn’t that true of every war that the US has fought? The war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, the Spanish-American war, WWI and WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, The Afghani and Iraqi wars; all of these represent the cry of a very few people for armed conflict. “Let us do evil, that good may come of it” is the equivalent of “the War to end all wars” or “glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” as soldiers slaughter their fellow Christian man for not thinking exactly the same way as they do.

Read the book. It is interesting history, and an interesting perspective on the Civil War, that is essentially not a “new understanding” but a well articulated stance of the possibility that is was nothing than widespread (north and south) public insanity that led to the war.

 

Bach: Music im Himmelsburg

December 15th, 2013

MusicInCastleHeavenBach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner ★★★★★

Gardiner is not especially my favorite conductor, but he does a fantastic and compelling job of writing this book. The text is partially a biography of Bach, but also partially a critique of his music, and commentary on music in Bach’s time. Gardiner conducts well, but he writes even better, and this book was difficult to put down. The first half of the book is more narrative, and the last half is more exploration of the cantatas and major choral works of Bach. What are you left with? A kid born in a small town in rural Germany to musical parents, orphaned when he was 9, lives a few years with his oldest brother before being thrown out, hikes up to Lübeck with a buddy and attends an orphans school for a year or so, comes back to Thuringia, and gets measly employment. In his first job, the city mayor asks Bach to include a bassoon solo for the mayor’s son, which Bach does—the solo happens to be too difficult for sonny boy and so he attacks Bach in a back alley and daddy naturally sticks up for sonny. Obviously, Bach didn’t put up with that. He spends time in prison. He has serious employer problems. He survives a war. He has problems with wayward children. I could go on and on. Gardiner paints many personal facets of Bach’s life that turns him into a real person, and erases the massive quantity of hagiography written about him. Bach also was an avid theology reader, and well versed in the writings of Luther, as well as in Lutheran commentaries on the Scripture. As mentioned, the later part of the book explores more the actual choral compositions of Bach, focusing especially on the Passions of John and Matthew, as well as the B minor mass. Fortunately, I was familiar with these pieces and could follow the text. I caution the reader not familiar with Bach’s music to spend some time working through his cantatas and major choral works while you read the book to get the full effect of the book. This book was a total delight to read, and so much so that I purchased additional copies for my musical friends. Hopefully, they develop as much appreciation for Bach as Gardiner has.

 

Prodigal Press

December 7th, 2013

ProdigalPressProdigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media, by Marvin Olasky and updated by Warren Cole Smith ★★★★

I received this book in the mail for free from World Magazine. It is an update from a book Olasky wrote in the late 1980’s, and acting as the justification of him starting World Magazine. Betsy and I are subscribers to World Magazine, but will probably be allowing our subscription to lapse for reasons I’ll mention later. This is a good book and worth reading, though deficits make it not the great book it could have been. There have been a slew of books attacking the media empire, the best being written by a Jewish person, Neil Postman, titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. Many books on press bias have been published.

Olasky does a wonderful job of developing the history of the press in America, elaborating on how many newspapers used to be specifically Christian newspapers, until taken over by a liberal editorial staff. He discusses about how the shift in court ruling of the libel laws has ultimately made it far more difficult to win charges of slander or libel, even when the press intentionally or unintentionally lies about the reporting of “facts” in a story. Olasky then looks at specific areas of reporting, such as the manner and style in which disasters and crises are reported. He explores how the press crusades for various public issues, the one most specifically mentioned was the issue of abortion.

Unfortunately, Olasky persistently considers being Republican and being Christian as being synonymous, and that attitude is very strong in this book as well as in his World Magazine. Such thinking could not be farther from the truth. In pro-life issues, Olasky rails against abortion, but is completely silent against the many wars the US fights, and people we murder (usually overseas) all in the name of homeland security. He campaigns for compassionate conservatism, but is completely silent about the corruption in government that creates money out of thin air (the Federal Reserve), and causes the economic instability that ultimately forces an increased need for redistribution of wealth in either a voluntary or involuntary fashion. Even in terms of reporting issues, Olasky has a horrid neo-Conservative Republican bias, seen in the last election as his total failure to offer democratic candidates a possible positive defense, and even worse, excluding candidates like Ron Paul from any discussion what-so-ever. For that reason, I found World Magazine to be a poor source for news, unless I wished to know about the actions of some altruistic group in Limbo, Arkansas. Honest discussion of issues from differing Christian perspectives is completely lacking, and the internet becomes the only place where I might find my sense of balance on serious issues of political and public concern.

The end of the book provides advice on how to deal with a nosey press reporter, wishing to dig mud on you. It is worth reading. Perhaps the best response to inquisitive reporters is to not exchange with them at all. The internet has provided a much better voice and information source for people than the press, including World Magazine. The press should be treated in the way they’ve deserved as an irrelevant information source.

 

 

Thirteen Words, Three Rights

December 7th, 2013

ThirteenWords ThreeRights

 

Thirteen Words, and Three Rights, by Edwin Vieira, Jr. ★★★

These two books will be reviewed together, since they probably should have been published as a single text. They follow on the heels of a book I recently reviewed by Vieira on judicial supremacy. These two volumes were written within the past several years, both pertaining to similar subjects. In Thirteen Words, Vieira discusses the subject of the right to bear arms, as stated quite clearly in the second amendment. He then develops the idea of the militia in terms of the definition intended by the founding fathers. State militias were intended to be managed by the states, conduct their business entirely independent of the army, and provide the ultimate “homeland security”. Vieira calls for the resurrection of a true state militia, where the citizens of the state are encouraged to be armed, and serve as the protection against the enemies of the state and to balance the power of the central government.

In Three Rights, Vieira expounds on the right to resistance to bad government, the right to restoration of good government, and the right for renewal of the nation. These rights are found explicitly in the declaration of independence, and not in the constitution itself. Essentially, it is the people’s right to revolution against bad government. Vieira develops the thought that this is not anti-government, and not to be confused with insurrection, which the constitution explicitly protects against. Vieira completely fails in drawing a strict definition of the difference between a revolution and an insurrection, both intended to overthrow what is perceived by some to be bad government or a misinterpretation of the government. Indeed, perhaps the reason that these three rights are NOT a part of the bill of rights, is that the declaration of independence was written with revolutionary fervor, an emotion that bodes poorly when actually trying to form a stable government.

Both books were written as single chapters, and manifest free-flowing thought, rather than a highly organized argument. This is contrary to his book on overthrowing judicial supremacy, where he actually thinks things through in a methodical, sensible, and more reasoned fashion. He often uses conventions in these two books that I am not familiar with, such as the frequent use of three asterisks (***) to suggest something, which I thought was perhaps trying to make an emphasis at that particular point. He frequently speaks of “the good people of the USA”, which I’m not sure what is meant by that—except to emphasize that he certainly is NOT a Calvinist, who believes that people are at their core intrinsically bad, with government designed to control that badness. The predicament of today is that most people really don’t care that the government today is for the most part operating in an entirely unconstitutional fashion, since their personal lives seem to have sufficient affluence and contentment to not warrant a revolution. Perhaps Vieira is writing for the future, when people wake up to realize that they’ve sold themselves into slavery to the state. Until that happens, both books are nothing but wishful thinking.

Handbook for Touring Bicyclists

December 7th, 2013

WooldridgeBicyclesThe Handbook for Touring Bicyclists, by Frosty Wooldridge ★★

Somewhere on the internet, I found this book as a highly recommended review of cycle touring. Frosty is apparently a self-acclaimed adventurer as well as gourmet cook (though he is also vegetarian). Thus, he combines his passions for adventure, bicycling and cooking into this book. The book is in two main parts, the first on touring tips and the second on touring cooking. Touring tips includes advice on packing saddle bags, bear proofing your camp, etc. The second part, on food, talks about purchasing food, carrying it, and a list of his favorite recipes. While I found a few helpful hints on packing and food management, there really wasn’t much in the book that I could say was informative. Frosty talks a lot about himself and his own personal tastes, but doesn’t provide a useful handbook for either the novice or serious touring cyclist.

 

Reading Plan

December 6th, 2013

ReadingPlan

 

Reading Plan, by James Price ★★★★★

Jim is an elder at church, who wrote an app for iPads and iPhones to allow for yearly through-the-Bible Scripture reading. It allows you to select among a number of reading plans, and also allows for a number of digital versions of the Scripture. This year, I read through the Scripures using the ESV (Olive Tree) and the McCheyne reading plan, which takes you through the Psalms and New Testament twice, and the remainder of the Old Testament once. It was a nice way to go. The Reading Plan app will keep track of your progress. I typically get a bit ahead of things, and actually started in June, finishing in early December. It was read on my iPad.

bible-reading-plan

 

For Christians, it is inconceivable that they not read the Scriptures on a regular basis, and to not bias themselves to particular passages or chapters. After all, ALL Scripture is inspired as the word of God, and so all Scripture should regularly be read. It is not a tall order to suggest that the Scriptures be read on an annual basis. There is no better way than to use the McCheyne plan with the Reading Plan app.

Next year, I’ll be using Craig DesJardin’s reading plan on the same Reading Plan app. Craig also goes to Faith Presbyterian church, and came up with a thematic reading plan, which is the default reading plan for Price’s app. I highly recommend that you download the app, and start reading NOW!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

November 27th, 2013

HatfieldRockBetween a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield ★★★★★

Mark Hatfield is well-known to me, as he was the two term governor of the state of Oregon, and then long-term senator in Washington, D.C. from Oregon, best known as a Republican who was anti-war, and very out-spoken against the war in Viet Nam. Mark was also very outspoken as a Christian, coming from Baptist roots, and growing up on the Oregon Coast. In WWII, he served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and he was among the very first GI’s to hit the Japanese mainland and see the destruction of the two atomic bombs. These war experiences had affected his thinking regarding the nature and toll of war, leading to his Pacifist position. Wikipedia has a fairly even-handed description of his life ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Hatfield ) including a few episodes later in his life where he possibly succumbed to the siren-call of political power.

This book expresses the agony of many of the decisions that Hatfield had to go through as a governor and then as a senator. He expresses the challenge of not being overwhelmed or tempted by the power-structures of Washington. Hatfield, in speaking once at a Presidential annual prayer breakfast, was reprimanded by his dear friend Billy Graham, only to have Mark remind us that even Billy Graham perhaps compromised his message in order to “buddy-up” with the power-elite in Washington D.C..

Hatfield

This book has both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest point is that Hatfield continually and freely expresses a Christian world view. There isn’t a chapter or page that doesn’t refer to Scripture or the Christian mind-set in his thinking. This book, written in 1976, could never be written today without the widespread public condemnation of the liberals and the press.

It’s weakness is that Mark expresses a naiveté which is a bit inexcusable. Others, such as Francis Schaeffer, have written extensively by the year 1976 when this book was published, and quite heavily on many of the issues that Mark brings up, including war, social concerns, world hunger, the environment, economic wealth distribution, and the like. Schaeffer does a far superior job of arguing a solid case for Christian involvement in all of these areas. Hatfield gets his main orientation rather from Jim Wallis and the Sojourners mind-set, which I fear is more guilt-manipulation (a term used by David Chilton as the title of a book counteracting a Sojourners thinker Ron Sider in a  book titled “Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger”) than truly thinking things out in a Biblical fashion. Hatfield inadvertently acknowledges this in an essay toward the end of the book dealing with world hunger, where he gives a number of action points for dealing with world hunger. I then quote “The final change must come from within our hearts”. Actually, a true Christian response doesn’t make the heart change last but first.

Hatfield gives in royally to confused liberal thinking in many points. He is overwhelmed by Malthusian principles, but then, who wasn’t in 1976? He decries strong central government, but his solutions usually demand an even larger central government. He condemns the United Nations, but simultaneously calls on the UN and similar institutions to solve problems of world hunger, war, over-crowding and poverty. Hatfield definitely flunks in his understanding of economics. Interestingly, he was a friend of Murray Rothbard, and held to many libertarian type economic principles, though this book betrays any form of libertarian thinking or consciousness for fundamental economic principles. As an example, he notes that world hunger is due to poverty, but seems clueless as to the causes of poverty.

The first 9 chapters of this book is a polemic against war, with a few other side issues, such as capital punishment, thrown in on the side. It is also a personal tale of the anguish and agony that Hatfield would go through in attempting to resolve these issues from the stance as a politician. The last chapter in the first part is titled “The purist and the apologist”, where Hatfield  discusses the issues of thinking as a purist through social issues, while simultaneously thinking in a pragmatic fashion for practical solutions of world problems. He admits both sides as partially correct, but tends to create a straw-man of the apologist which he then attacks. The second part of the book, which are the last four chapters, discuss 1) the destruction of war and nuclear weaponry, 2) the meaninglessness and futility of Washington power-structures, 3) the need for a Christian environmental movement, and 4) the approach to world hunger.

This book gets five stars for being unique, in that it is about the only book that I know written by a prominent political official that expresses their heartfelt thinking from a Christian world-view. Even though he gets many things wrong, he also gets many things quite right. He doesn’t give strong arguments for his thesis, which I can easily forgive him for. His identification of the problems in Washington, D.C. have since vastly compounded themselves, and I’m sure Hatfield would be horrified by what is now going on in the national capitol. It is a book to read and weep over. Nearly every legislator, executive branch official, and judge has lost the Christian world-view, and we are only the worse for it. Without God’s grace, we will probably never again see a high political official like Mark Hatfield with a heart for God as well as a strong heart for those he served.

 

Great Wars and Great Leaders

November 25th, 2013

RaicoGreatWarsGreat Wars & Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Ralph Raico ★★★★

Sunday school is currently covering the issue of Christian involvement and attitudes towards war. I had given away most of my ethics books on war, but the class had resurrected questions in my mind. Several reviews, including this, will be dealing with the issue of war.

Raico comes from a Libertarian perspective, a perspective that I don’t entirely agree with. Yet, I stand strongly behind his stance against war, though not always for precisely the same reasons. This book doesn’t contend directly with the morality of war, but instead simply reviews the wars of the 20th century, including the 1st WW, 2nd WW, and then cold war. He focuses heavily on Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, FDR, and Truman, in all desiring war for the political means of self-promotion. Simultaneously, he more than sufficiently develops the extreme and astronomical hypocrisy of the people mentioned in stating their objections to war while purposely forcing war to become inevitable. Raico spends much time alerting us to the wanton hypocrisy of WWII, with us lambasting Hitler and his murder of innocents, without mentioning that Stalin killed vastly more Christians (for being Christian) than Hitler killed Jews (for being Jewish), that Churchill’s bombers killed unbelieveably more women, children, and civilians than were ever killed by Nazis, and that FDR (and Truman’s) atomic bombs made the petty crimes of the Nazi Nuremberg war criminals appear trivial.

From a Christian perspective, these are legitimate issues that are not addressed by the church, which smugly still believes in American exceptionalism and the impossibility of American erring in foreign policy, especially in establishing America’s interests throughout the world.

Patrick Buchanan does a better job of documenting the Churchillian hypocrisies, but Raico does a superb job of putting things together better, especially in dealing with the decisions of Truman, John Foster Dulles, and the henchmen which, in the name of Christ, repeatedly lied to the public and promoted a war fever—this fever pretended that America was on a Christian Crusade defending the name of Christ, rather than actually defending state interests in banking, oil, and other international commerce.

If we consider the destruction of Germany as evidence on God’s judgement on that nation for abandoning faith in Christ, I fear how much worse will be the lot for both Great Britain and the United States. This is a book worth reading, which I’m sure the neo-conservatives will attack in force. Niall Ferguson (reviewed previously by me) will deny British culpability in the fashion of an ostrich, being so convinced that the (English-speaking) white man’s burden is to save the world by policing and conquering the world, not realizing that salvation is in one person only, who happens to be currently ruling supreme. “He who sits in heaven laughs…” Meanwhile, Churchill and FDR will be occupying space in hell just below Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

In terms of developing a defined stance against war, I can’t say that I’m strictly a pacifist. I’m strictly pro-life, as defined by Scripture. I will defend life, including if life comes under attack in any form. I will defend the life of both Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim, and even atheist, if there in no justification for termination of their life. Scripture defines when human life can or should be taken, and allows for personal defense. Those who argue a “holy war” perspective, such as Harold Brown fail in argumentative consistency or in providing even one remote historical example. There remains no correspondence between the current conservative American Christian in regard to military stance and Scripture. The strict pacifist also fails at being hypocritical. The Pacifist wishes for police protection, yet would never place themselves in the position of serving as policemen, possibly even killing somebody in the protection of law and order. To them, they fundamentally deny original sin, or the sinfulness of all mankind. They live in a hypocritical fantasy world.

The end of this book was a set of book reviews, which were disorganized, and did not necessarily follow the logical thought process of the book. They would have best been left out, or else summarized for their content distinctive of what was written in the book.

My next read will be Mark Hatfield’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I have no idea how Hatfield will develop his ideas, though I had tremendous respect for him as governor and senator for the state of Oregon. Coming soon at a blog site near you…

 

How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary

November 22nd, 2013

ImperialJudiciaryHow to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary, by Dr. Edwin Vieira Jr. ★★★★★

This book was chosen to be read by me, as it pertained to thoughts I was having about the “mis-balance” of powers that we currently observe in the function of our national government, particularly, that the judiciary has tended to create law, rather than just interpret the law, and to do so outside of the boundaries permitted by the constitution. Vieira, as a constitutional lawyer, develops an argument against our current court system in a manner better thought out than even Andrew Napolitano, who was recently reviewed by me. While Vieira may not be as public of figure as Vieira, Vieira deserves a much greater audience, and more seriousness given to his appeal in this book and others that he has published. Napolitano seems to have a strong public forum, since he is functionally a libertarian with leanings toward natural law theory, though he does claim to be a devout Roman Catholic. I have no clue as to Vieira’s religious sentiments or beliefs, but would be forced to identify him as a strictly natural law theorist, in part because he constantly reminds us of the statement in the Declaration of Independence which offers that “the Laws of Nature and [ ] Nature’s God” is the entitlement for their grievance. Vieira, like Napolitano, utilize much legal jargon, mostly in latin, but easily defined with the Apple computer dictionary.

The book is divided into two parts, the first being the argument that 6 members of the Supreme Court, Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, O’Connor, Souter and Stevens committed high crimes and treason, but making a judgment under the veil of constitutional authority, while defying the constitution in seeking the authority of European and international law decisions. Specifically, the court case mentioned was Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court charge was against a law on the Texas books forbidding homosexual sodomy. Vieira does a masterful piece in demonstrating how the Supreme Court ruling defied the US Constitution, and went against all previous court judgements. Vieira shows how permission of international court rulings as a basis for American law has since been frequently used to overturn the very substance of our constitution, and will eventually lead to the death of many of our freedoms.

The second portion of the book is a thoughtful and reasoned consideration of how we should react to this. Vieira discourages adding more law to the books to strike down the Supreme Court ruling. The constitution already has provision for dealing with an “imperial” judiciary, and more laws will only lead to the proliferation of even more laws. Rather, Vieira reminds us that in the Marbury v. Madison ruling, the court allowed that they had the ability to strike down unconstitutional laws generated by the legislature, but also opens the door for either the Executive or Legislative branch to do the same with the courts, in that all three branches of government are responsible for upholding the constitution, and no branch has a monopoly on interpretive “rights” to the constitution. The constitution affords the states the ability to object to court rulings, should they deem them to be unconstitutional (state interposition). The constitution also allows for impeachment of court members, and Vieira notes the absence of the Legislature or Executive branch to a renegade Supreme Court as also being negligent of constitutional duty to uphold the constitution. In his last words, he states that “if the House of Representatives cannot muster sufficient forces to put through even a basically toothless remonstrance to Lawrence, it should consider changing the nation’s emblem from the eagle to the ewe”. True story. Anybody serving in public capacity, whether it be as a lawyer or judge, serving in public office, or simply acting as a public commentator on political issues, MUST read this book.

Lest I leave the reader of this review with an absence of the humor and color of Vieira’s writings, it becomes sensible to offer a series of his notable quotes from the book. All of the following below are quotes from the book, and will not be referenced.

Whereas, a judicial decision such as Lawrence is “the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture”–and perhaps not even the original product of the Justices themselves, but of their clerks, who come wet behind the ears from the intellectual hothouse of that “law-profession culture,” infected with the latest communicable viruses of “good thinking” in “the culture war”.

If [ ] the Justices can incorporate foreign law–or even intergalactic legal principles drawn from episodes of Star Trek–into the Constitution, [  ] the sources of their inspirations are ultimately beside the point, the inspirations themselves becoming “law” of each case simply perforce of their enunciations.

…the “living Constitution” provides no excuse for promiscuously interpolating foreign law into constitutional interpretation–unless the Preamble can now be read a a mandate “to form a more perfect Union [with foreigners], insure [international or global] tranquility, provide for the common defense [of a New World Order], promote the general Welfare [of people throughout the World] and secure the Blessings of Liberty to [a global community, according to foreigner’s ideas of what constitutes Liberty].”

Truth, not power (or worse, the hubris of office), is the touchstone of constitutional jurisprudence.

Besides the logic of the situation, WE THE PEOPLE can imagine hundreds upon hundreds of possible decisions of judges that no one free to leave a lunatic asylum would dare to defend as constitutional…

There are many, many more quotes. Read the book. It’s worth it.

 

Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

November 16th, 2013

SkurkaGearGuideThe Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide, by Andrew Skurka ★★★★★

This book is well written, and well printed, in a style fitting for National Geographic. Skurka is a professional adventurer, and advocates the ultralight technique, having developed a number of devices himself, including an alcohol stove made out of a cat food can. While the book is titled as a gear guide, it is really much more than that. Skurka offers numerous anecdotes of mistakes that he has made, including being horribly mis-packed for his first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when he was just a kid. The book abounds with advice on making the ultralight hike an enjoyable experience, whether hiking in the rain, desert, or frozen tundra of northern Alaska in winter. Skurka writes well, and the book was a joy to read. In addition, his appetites seem to parallel mine, as he doesn’t call for bizarre recipes for the trail. Rather, his advice on food, as for shelter, clothing, shoes, backpack, and other equipment is very common sensical and something I would identify as consistent with the way I would tend to do things. This is not a book on the subtle details of backpacking, such as planning a trip, route finding, camp-building, etc. Skurka focuses on the experience of hiking, and de-emphasizes the experience of camping. Camping advice will best be found elsewhere.

 

Ultralight Backpacking

November 16th, 2013

LightenUp

UltralightBackpackLighten Up! by Don Ladigin ★★★★
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, By Mike Clelland ★★★★

These two books are written in a very similar style, with the same illustrator (Mike Clelland). They really should be published together, as they are complementary and fit together. Either book could be read in a single evening. Both books are packed with advice on the reason to ultralight backpack, and how to do it, without endangering your life. The advice contains great common sense that one usually doesn’t think about, and is contrary to what is sold as typical backpacking advice. Not all of the advice is anything that I would follow. Some is a little gross, as advice NOT to take toilet paper, but to use rocks and other implements to wipe yourself. Yuk! I’ll pass. Mike is a vegetarian, and gives advice on food that sounds awesomely unappetizing. Other ultralight books do a better job of advising what to eat. All in all, both books were most helpful, and will be used for upcoming pack trips in the following years, as well as for bicycle trips.

Democrips and Rebloodlicans

November 8th, 2013

DemocripsDemocrips and Rebloodlicans, by Jesse Ventura ★

This must be one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time. I had hoped that Jesse would have provided a reasoned argument for his thesis, which is that the two political parties are both corrupt and since he’s had problems with a third party, then the elimination of all political parties would best serve America. Instead, Jesse goes on a mindless rap, mostly about the Republican party. The only two books more worthless than this one were those two written by another politician from his state, Al Franken. Ventura’s absence of balance is quite staggering. While I have no love for the Republican Party, Jesse puts his entire book into detailing the corruption of the Republican party. I’m sorry, but the Republicans have no premium on corruption, and the Democrats make it quite a bit easier to document blatant corruption. The bias in this book  is so overwhelming at times to be unnerving. When talking about how Mitt Romney was a member of the renegade Mormon church, and how the Mormon church was a vast conspiracy of evil out to destroy Amerika, he blithely fails to notice that the president of the senate, a democrat, Harry Reid, also is a devout Mormon.

Jesse rants and rages about the morality of the Tea Party, how they are a bunch of moralist Christians corrupting the American society. That Santorum is a member of the Catholic church, and lives in the same town as some Opus Dei members insinuates Santorum as a part of the Conspiracy Dark Side. Really. Jesse hates anybody that would admit that they are a Christian, but says nothing about those who are devout Muslims, Buddhists, etc. To stand against abortion, or for the ten commandments, means to Jesse that you are forcing your morality on the public. Jesse proudly admits that he believes that “religion is the root of all evil” (page 210). Jesse waxes long and hard about Rushdooney and the Reconstructionists (not realizing that Ron Paul’s first economic advisor was Rushdooney’s son-in-law), even attacking Francis Schaeffer as a moralistic fool. Jesse’s discussion of the history of religion in America leaves something seriously to be desired. I think Jesse held his breath to long underwater as a Seal.

Jesse shows confusion in so many areas. He rages against foreign policy statements made by Pat Buchanan. He strongly supports a serious graduated income tax, with a 95% tax on the super-rich. He devotes an entire chapter on the media bias towards Republicans. Really! Nobody ever told him that 95% of the press overtly admit that they are liberal democrats. He rages against the electoral college, thus manifesting a totally cluelessness as to why our government was established with indirect vote rather than direct vote of certain people.

Jesse was recently interviewed by Ron Paul on the Ron Paul channel, where Jesse spoke of his favorite topic, that of corruption in government. In this book, Jesse has an entire chapter on his support for Ron Paul. The serious problem I have with Ron Paul is the same serious problem that I have with Jesse. Ron Paul was recently asked if he uses religion as a guide for his decision making, and he stated adamantly that he does not. So, where does Paul and Ventura get their ethics? Answer: out of thin air. Unfortunately, every other candidate in this last election for president, both Republican and Democrat, were either wantonly corrupt, had horrid economic and foreign policies, or were simply clueless as to anything salient. I guess we are stuck with Oliver Cromwell’s dilemma—when stacking the parliament with Christians, the parliament became entirely inept at running the country. But, advice from Ventura is totally useless. Don’t waste your time reading this book. You’ll regret it if you pick it up.

 

The School Revolution

November 5th, 2013

SchoolRevolutionThe School Revolution, A New Answer for Our Broken Education System, by Ron Paul ★★★★

This book is a lengthy and massive appeal for homeschooling. The arguments presented by Paul are good, but could have been better. We live in an age where every parent should now seriously consider removing their children from government schools. Paul suggests that kids learn to be more independent and disciplined, and that they tend to transform from needing teachers to self-educating themselves at an earlier age with homeschooling. He spends perhaps too much time stressing education that corrects the mistakes of government school, especially in economics. This list could have been much longer, including literature, and the sciences. Paul makes an appeal for his own homeschool curriculum, which he is currently working on, though he admits that it is geared for only the top 10% of students. In that curriculum, he expects students to be fluent at posting videos on uTube and essays on their personal website—actually not a bad idea. He suggests that the internet can be a valuable source for education in today’s world. I am concerned that the internet provides the same pitfalls as government schools, and must be used judiciously. In summary, this is not a bad book, but is a slight bit ideological that home schooling is a simple answer to government or private schools. Yet, I think that every parent should now seriously weigh the possibility of home schooling quite seriously.

 

Bad Religion

November 3rd, 2013

BadReligionBad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics, by Ross Douthat ★★★★★

Ross Douthat is coming next Saturday to speak at Faith Presbyterian Church (09NOV2013), and so I thought I’d read the book that will be the focus of his visit. Fortunately, this was loaned to me by Dr. King, who happened to have a copy. Though it is a fairly meaty book, I managed to read it in a weekend, allowing me time to cogitate and ruminate on the main points of the book. Oppenheimer has reviewed the text for the NY Times, and seems to have missed some of the most salient points of the book,  though he mentions that Ross does an excellent job of attacking both the religious right and religious left in this country. Ross speaks as a Catholic, and holds a strong affinity for the traditional Latin mass and pre-Vatican II liturgy and practice of the church. Douthat’s writing style requires a bit of warm-up, and thus it is hard to connect with the book in the first few chapters. The focus of the book is on Christianity in the USA, and thus Judaism and other religions naturally are not mentioned at all, nor is Christianity in other countries mentioned. Throughout, Ross continually brings in mention of political party involvement in the religious scene, and religion in the public square.

The first four chapters attempt to present the public square of religion in a semi-historical sense, beginning with roughly the turn of the century,  the work of liberal theologians, to the semi-reforming influence of Karl Barth, and with discussions regarding a variety of topics such as the sexual revolution and the crisis of racism. The next chapter (The Locust Years) details the fall of the mainstream denominations, including the Catholic church, into  liberalism. The next chapter on accommodation details how Christianity tried to make itself acceptable to the community by accommodating in morality, ethics, and liturgy to a populist approach. This was shown as a  dismal failure. The Resistance chapter then speaks of the response of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant, to waning church populations,  and the attempts at rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants.

In part II, titled “The Age of Heresy”,  the chapters range from discussion of the loss in Catholic and Protestant circles of a sense of the text of Scripture, demonstrating both cluelessness as to what Scriptures say (a Glenn Beck illustration is given), and a desire of those like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels to resurrect “lost” gospels and create an alternative Christianity. Chapter six, “Pray and Grow Rich” focuses mostly on the religious right, and their prosperity gospel or mentality for such, even when (like  pastor Rick Warren) they overtly deny a prosperity gospel. Conversely, chapter seven, “The God Within” shows the religious left as forming new spiritualities which abandon all sense of Christian morality, to focus on the inner self, a cross between eastern mysticism and western psychobabble. The final chapter, “A City on a Hill” bounces back to the religious right, with inclusion of both republican and democratic parties, and attacks the mentality that views the USA as God’s last hope on earth, the sole island of faith in the world, and the sole defender of Christian value, and the exceptionalism of being American.

In a concluding chapter, Douthat gives an all-too-brief summary of a solution, which includes returning to the ancient faith, and developing an improved communication between the Catholic and Protestant conservatives. He discusses  the need for Christian culture to re-engage in the arts. He also stresses the importance of being Christian rather than party affiliated.

I have minor problems with the thesis of Douthat. While I appreciate his perspicuity  at identifying the problems of public faith in America, I think that some Calvinist glasses could have given him a better insight into all that has gone wrong. Essentially, we are witnessing a rebellion against God, and re-defining our commitments to other conservative Christians and to the church is only part of the answer. The personal sin of unbelief and repentance from that sin is not mentioned in the book. Return to the idolatries of Catholicism and the counter-idolatries of traditional Protestantism will only deepen our dilemma. His focus is not on truly Biblical solutions, including resolving the economic and social conundrums that bedevil our society. Is there a Christian economic? I tend to agree with Gary North that there is. How do we as Christians publicly deal with the sins of homosexuality, intolerance which comes in the form of political correctness, a court system that is a hotbed of injustice, civil servants and politicians that are corrupt to the bone, wanton greed thrown off as free-market Capitalism, the role of the church vs. the state in provision for the poor, etc., etc., etc.? To those questions, we will never have perfect answers in our lifetime, but perhaps Douthat will address in future writings.

In terms of critique of the Protestant church, Douthat is an addendum to Machen, Schaeffer, and David Wells. Francis Schaeffer remains the best voice yet in offering solutions to the hard questions of Christian life in the public square. Douthat excels at giving us a little bigger and better picture of the transmogrifying public religious scene that includes the Roman Catholic presence. Thus, it is very well worth reading.

ADDENDUM: 09NOV2013 I just got back from talking with Ross Douthat, and hearing him speak for 1.5 hours at Faith Presbyterian Church about his life and this book. His goals and objectives for writing the book are well accomplished. Douthat is not only articulate and quite brilliant, but very humble, soft-spoken, and caring. It is quite clear that his commitment to the orthodox Christian faith takes first place in his life. He was a joy to listen to, but also quite thought provoking about how we present ourselves as Christians in the public square.

 

New World Order

October 31st, 2013

DiceNWOThe New World Order, Facts and Fiction, by Mark Dice ★★★★★

Mark Dice is the guy you see on uTube interviewing people on the beach in San Diego. Typically, he will have them sign some sort of crazy petition, or ask them something quite obvious which they get wrong, such as whether Obama is a Republican or a Democrat. This book is one of his works of passion. It is an easy to read text, and displays Mark as a sensible person, and not a looney tune fearing the end of the world. It is sad that this book was published in 2010, and much of the more fearful concerns he had at that time, such as government surveillance of citizens, has really been shown to be true. It was the work of Snowden and others that left us all realizing that much of the doomsayers cries were true.

Mark uses the term “New World Order”, yet there is no such thing as a new world order. What he complains about in this book has been going on since the dawn of time. Today, we see events happening before our eyes, that often have had no good explanation. The news, which is supposed to be critical and investigatory, tends to be superficial, contrived, and predictable in their reporting. Is it any wonder that we are left in a quandary regarding figuring out what really is happening. Is is sad that the more critical Christian news agencies such as World Magazine lapse into the same errors as their secular counterparts, and offer no real alternative to the mainstream news media. Mark shows no evidence of having smoked odd substances in the past, or having his brain overheated in the sun of San Diego. He doesn’t believe in space aliens, and supra normal phenomena.

The brief outline of his book is as follows…

1. The idea of the New World Order – actually old world order, with some new intentions

2. Secret societies that tend to promote the idea of a “new world order”

3. How the “rulers” remain above the law

4. The unreliability of mainstream media in reporting what is really going on

5. The moral decline of society, seemingly encouraged from above

6. Banking

7. One world currency

8. Population control

9. Single world religion, the rise of atheistic satanism

10. Singe world dictator

11. Global police state

12. Global surveillance

13. Elimination of the right to bear arms

14. Elimination of US national sovereignty

15. Population monitoring in big brother fashion

16. Medicating the public

17. Science issues, including MK-ULTRA,  means of mind control and placing thoughts in ones’ mind

18. Global warming

He ends with the conclusion that our best defense is to start by keeping our eyes open, and knowing what’s going on. The book is brief, but believable, since much has come true since Mark wrote the book. It is not a call to escape or run in fear, but to rise and fight, and to be prepared. It is a book worth reading.

 

Make your First Thru-Hike a Success

October 29th, 2013

BrianLewisThru-HikeMake Your First Thru-Hike a Success, by Brian Lewis ★★★★★

Lewis is a fellow native Northwesterner, a person who had done the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trail thru-hikes before writing this book. It is written as an advice book in an entertaining narrative style to help one plan and accomplish a lengthy thru-hike. There are multiple links in the books to reference sites. It is his personal advice, and seems to be great advice at that. This was probably the most enjoyable book that I’ve read as yet on hiking the PCT, and is very easy to read. His advice on going super-light yet not minimalist is good. He gives advice on planning the trip, what to expect, what to wear, what to eat, what equipment to have and not to have, and a prudent way of caring to caches. He includes a lengthy bit of advice on wearing hiking shoes-not hiking boots—interesting, something that I’ll have to try. He gives advice about engaging loved ones at home to help the hike go better.

Brian’s trail name was Gadget, since he noted that he carried a smart phone with him. The smart phone acted as gps device, watch, phone, data device, mp3 player, and Kindle book reader. Brian also maintained a lengthy chronicle of his adventure, which I find puzzling, finding it hard to imaging anybody typing 3-5 paragraphs a night on a Kindle. I could see a mini iPad filling that roll, but not a smart phone.

The book that everybody recommends including Brian, that I have yet to read, is Yogi’s guide to the PCT. That book is large, expensive, and up-dated every other year or so to remain accurate, since things change. Once I get closer to a serious decision regarding a thru- or chunk-hike, then Yogi will be purchased and read.

 

Skywalker

October 29th, 2013

SkywalkerSkywalker, Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Bill Walker ★★★★

This is a book I read in Kindle, having downloaded it for free off of Amazon.com, and is Bill Walker’s account of walking the PCT. Bill Walker is an entertaining writer, and easy to read. He is realistic about what it takes to do the PCT, describes life on the trail as though you were there with him. He does an excellent job of describing both the beauty and misery of the PCT. Having been caught in many of the scenarios that he describes, such as miserable nights under attack by mosquitos, blisters on the feet, nights drenched in rain, I could feel for him. Bill went by the pseudonym Skywalker on his hikes, a tradition popular with  thru-hikers of both the Appalachian as well as Pacific Crest trail. Bill apparently lives in central Georgia, and notes that the trail was his first exposure to the pacific NorthWest. Fortunately, he did get a few days of sun in my part of the world. Bill noted that he worked in the financial world, and before the Appalachian trail, which he did a year or two before the PCT, he had never backpacked before. Bill likes to wax philosophical during his accounts and provide select history of various regions, something that did not really help the flow of the story. The story seems to be especially preoccupied with accounts of encounters with other thru-hikers, especially noting their free sexual escapades. This provides for amusement, mostly in showing the broad range of personalities and types of people that attempt a 6 month thru-hike. Bill had problems with blisters early in the hike, delaying him for three weeks. Thus, when he reached northern Washington state, heavy snow was already hitting the trail, a signal that he should have aborted his effort; he just doesn’t realize how bad things can really be in the mountains. This entertaining and un-glorified account of  a nearly complete (he skipped about 450 miles of trail for various reasons) thru-hike of the PCT is a worth-read for anybody thinking about the trail.

 

The Illuminati: Facts and Fiction

October 29th, 2013

IlluminatiThe Illuminati: Facts & Fiction, by Mark Dice ★★★★

Mark Dice is the guy you frequently see on uTube interviewing the riffraff of Southern California, while having them sign ridiculous petitions, such as to turn the country into a Nazi state, or to have everything under surveillance. He is excellent at humorously showing the cluelessness of Southern Californians. In this book, he attacks a favorite topic of his, the secret societies of the world. Though he labels the book “The Illuminati”, he only weakly shows how all the secret societies of the western world tie together, but discusses their origin and affect on politics and society today. He also discusses areas that he thinks have minimal to no evidence, or people that are true looney tunes paranoid about anything under any rock. The book is put together more in an encyclopedic fashion, rather than a linear discussion of a topic. Thus, he discusses a broad range of topics, from secret societies to space aliens. He spends much time in detailing secret societies in film, the news, in modern music, and in modern literature. The sad part of the book is that he only spends a few pages detailing a solution. Most importantly is being aware that such societies exist, and that they play a huge role behind the scenes in affecting the news and politics of the day. Secondly is to not fear such societies, that the biggest enemy of such societies is their exposure to the world. Thirdly is to be prepared. Food, water, guns and ammo, and gold are invaluable. Fourthly is to live a moral, righteous life. I probably would have placed his fourth item as first and foremost. Darkness is repelled by light, and the light of Scripture is the brightest light in this world. The book is best skimmed, but not to be laughed at. I will be reading one other book of his, “New World Order”, before moving on to more cheery topics, so expect another review soon (Dennis).

 

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology

October 22nd, 2013

Hodge

 

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology ★★★★

Several aspects of this review need to be separated. First I will comment on the media of the book, and then on the contents of the book itself.

This book was downloaded from Amazon.com. It is a large text, over 2700 pages in printed type, fitting into three volumes. I have the printed version, but decided to read the Kindle version instead, as it is more convenient. There are several serious problems with the Kindle version. It was a scanned edition, and the typos in the text are extremely numerous, and oftentimes very bothersome. Secondly, Charles Hodge quotes much latin, none of which is translated. He quotes and personally translates the German and French, but assumes that the reader will have a command of Latin. That was probably true in 1870, but absolutely not true in 2013, and thus any appropriate reproduction of this book should now have the Latin in translation.

Charles Hodge was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1851 to 1878. His thinking has heavily influenced evangelical thinking up to this present day. There is no doubt that Hodge is truly one of the great Presbyterian/Reformed theologians of all time. This set is his magnum opus, and a very fine display of his thinking. First, the problems with his writing. Hodge was affected by the science of the day, and often explores science. He often discusses the leading scientific and philosophical thinkers of his day and refutes them. Unfortunately, none of those thinkers are well-known today, and the subjects to be refuted would not be considered relevant today. The beauty of his writing overwhelms the problems. The style of writing is more similar to that of Michael Horton than of Louis Berkhof. Hodge attacks relevant topics, and leaves other topics only briefly discussed. He is not encyclopedic like Berkhof. Sometimes, he will ramble in philosophy. Otherwise, he might even quote scripture. Often, he will have a blend of both. At no time did I find him affronting my Reformed faith, but rather agreeing with it. Hodge is most masterful at tackling difficult theological issues, and the greatest beauty of this book showing how one can think through difficult theological issues in a very logical but Scriptural fashion. For Reformed thinkers, it is a must read at some time in ones’ life, just at Calvin’s Institutes should be read at some point in time.

I started reading this set late last year, interrupted by numerous other books. Nearly a year later, it is finally completed. I must now go on to read other texts. I am reading some history and hiking books on the iPad, and will begin Calvin’s Institutes, Battles’ version, soon. I made it nearly half way through the Institutes, and now need to start over and complete the task. It will probably take six or more months. The other theology texts waiting include Reymond’s recent systematic theology text, and Bavinck’s systematic theology – four volumes!, as recommended by Rob Rayburn. Stay tuned.

The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook

September 23rd, 2013

LongDistanceThe Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook, by Simon Doughty ★★★★

I purchased this book from Powell’s Bookstore. It is written from a British perspective, easily seen on the cover where the cyclists are headed towards you on the right side of the road. Doughty covers the whole gamut of long distance cycling, with touring being only a small aspect of that. He discusses bicycles and equipment, training, nutrition, and safety on the road. The book is well written and well organized, but not oriented around a specific type of cycling, thus is not a book that applies to many people. There are more specific touring books or long-distance road racing books that better. It is nice to see things from a British perspective, which is slightly different from the contents of a cycling book written in the USA.

 

Napolitano Three-in-One

July 27th, 2013

Napolitano3in1Three in One (Constitutional Chaos, The Constitution in Exile, and A Nation of Sheep), by Andrew Napolitano ★★★★

Napolitano can be a quite depressing writer to read. These three books, while published separately between 2003 and 2007, deal with similar issues, and have a very similar writing style, making them completely appropriate to publish together.  Napolitano, in these three books, gives the reader a barrage of documented court cases which show how the courts have ignored the constitution in their deliberations. Constitutional Chaos deals with how the government is the largest lawbreaker of them all. Free speech is gagged, respect for private property is not held, government will commit crimes in order to supposedly catch criminals, and often will force somebody into a crime in order to convict them. Worse, the government will bribe witnesses, intimidate witnesses to force convictions, and will deny a person habeas corpus, all while pretending to be operating in good faith with the constitution. Napolitano describes his journey away from being a die-hard Republican into thinking both parties are accomplices in destroying the constitution The Constitution in Exile continues the theme, this time providing a broader history of court cases from history, starting with Marbury vs. Madison, showing how the courts have engaged in judicial review, an activity not permitted by the constitution. Napolitano ends with a discussion of the PATRIOT act, showing how it has essentially removed any sense of right to privacy, all in the name of security. A Nation of Sheep extends the privacy issue, and argues with bewilderment as to why the US public would let the US government get away with what they do. The public doesn’t seem to understand that a small amount of security is coming at the cost of all of our freedom, the reason a revolutionary war was fought. The picture of the United States taking liberty to defy international law (often of which was written by the USA), in engaging in torture, subterfuge, absence of habeas corpus (no trial) paints a messy picture of the US being a rogue state of which we would easily condemn if it wasn’t ourselves. These books are a very depressing but realistic wake-up call, worth reading if you consider yourself concerned about the USA.

 

Theodore and Woodrow

July 27th, 2013

Theodore&Woodrow

 

Theodore and Woodrow, by Andrew Napolitano ★★★★★

This book was read on my iPad using the Kindle interface. I gave the book five stars even though it has it’s problems. The title is a little bit deceptive, in that not much is discussed about Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. My first impression was that this book would provide a history of these two presidents followed by descriptions on the damage they did to the US constitution. Instead, Napolitano organized the book as each chapter revolving around a particular freedom that was lost, spending a few paragraphs showing what Teddy or Woody did to “start the ball rolling”, with explanations of where we are today. Sixteen chapters range from the rise of the state controlling education, regulating us to death, creating racism, issues with labor laws, international politics, etc. etc. are all discussed and shown perhaps not to have started by Teddy or Woody, but to have brought into the mainstream of governmental influence by these two characters.  Napolitano doesn’t blame everything on Teddy and Woody, as  destruction to our constitutional freedoms began soon after the constitution was ratified among the various states. This is a quite educational book to explain how we possibly got into the mess that we’re in, worth reading by anybody interested in politics of the USA.

The Hobbit

July 7th, 2013

HobbitThe Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien ★★★★★

I believe this is my third time through the Hobbit, this time read entirely on my iPad via Kindle. It is a great book to read when engaging in an adventure, and this time it was a bicycle ride with an old friend in upper Michigan. Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit, called on by the wizard Gandalf to assist the dwarves in freeing their native homeland from the dragon Smaug. Tolkien skillfully combines the excitement of an adventure, with its many obstactles and dangers, as well as the excitement of the discovery of new lands and new friends, to induce one to leave ones’ comfortable habitat and journey to unknown lands. Tolkien skillfully mixes an exciting story with profound moral lessons to teach the necessity of doing what it right, even if it is costly. This, along with the Lord of the Rings, will remain one of my favorite books of all time.

The new Hobbit movie (which will be a trilogy, and only the first portion so far offered to the public) takes many liberties but remains reasonably faithful to the text of the story.

 

Tyranny Busters

May 16th, 2013

BenoitTyrannyTyranny Busters: The Sham and Shame of the Federal Income Tax, by Michael Benoit ★★★★

Michael Benoit sent this book to me a few months ago, and I finally found some time to read it. He is from California, has run for political office a few times in the past, and remains politically active. Benoit discusses the nature of the difference between direct and indirect taxes (since the constitution defines them as different!). Benoit struggles with the income tax, determining how it can legally be a graduated tax, since direct taxes much be apportioned equally as according to the constitution. He also struggles with trying to define if the law really does say that he need to pay an income tax.

This is a wonderful book that was educational in many regards to me. I don’t consider it particularly fun struggling with the nature of tax law. Benoit does it quite capably, yet is cautious in his recommendations. I presume that he has a grasp on the rogue, un-constitutional nature of the IRS. His main education in this regard has come from Otto Skinner, who seems to be attacked viciously by the group called Quatloos!, found on www.quatlosers.com. The only argument Quatloos seems to make against Skinner is that it is obvious that all people need to pay taxes and everybody knows that. Actually, the Quatloos argument is self defeating, since a substantial portion of our population, the 50% “poor” and the filthy rich (George Soros, etc.), pay almost no tax. It seems like some people “know” that you can avoid taxes, or not be legally responsible for paying them.

I defer to my brother’s attempt to define the US tax code. Multiple letters to the IRS were never responded to asking specific clarification of tax law. Perhaps Quatloos needs to speak with the IRS and inform them as to the precise nature of tax code. My brother depended mostly on the writings and advice of tax and constitutional lawyers Larry Becraft and Edwin Vieira, who seem to have a grasp at the true morass of our tax system. It is difficult to imagine our current system lasting much longer before the system breaks, leaving us either under anarchy and a new revolution, or under a Stalinist style police state. I’m grateful for those like Benoit with the courage to speak out and attempt to fix the system before it fixes us.

 

The Law

May 16th, 2013

TheLawThe Law, by Frédéric Bastiat ★★★★★

Frederic Bastiat was a Frenchman that lived from 1800-1850, and has been heavily influential on many economists and politicians since then, including our own Ron Paul. This book was sent to me by Michael Benoit. There is no better way to review this book than to provide for a series of quotes, either from him, or, one that would have been from him if he was still living.

Bastiat6 Bastiat7 Bastiat5 Bastiat3 Bastiat1

Bastiat4

I recommend without reservation reading The Law. It is a wonderful polemic against socialism and statism, with lessons that all Americans should learn, before they try to persuade themselves and others that we live in a free country.

 

 

English Standard Version Bible – Round 2

May 16th, 2013

esv-hcThe English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, by God ★★★★★

It isn’t fair rating the Bible. The Bible rates us, and not the other way around. The rating is more for the translation. I have an unfair prejudice in that I happen to personally know a number of people involved in the translation, but I really didn’t let that cloud my opinion. It was my first complete read-through in electronic format, reading the ESV on my iPad through the Olive Tree program.

I used to read the bible through on a yearly basis. Then, peripheral reading became important, and now I’m back. I actually started re-reading the ESV in November of last year, so that this was a less than 1/2 of year read. I learn something new every time I make it through the Bible, so I am constantly realizing how much I need to spend daily time in God’s word.

My next read will also be in the ESV translation, but I’ll be using Jim Price’s program to help me through. Jim studied physics at UCLA, eventually became highly successful in business, and has written a program called “Reading Plan” as an iPod app. He is now an elder in our church. It’s nice in that his program connects with most electronic bible versions, and has a vast assortment of reading programs for getting through the bible in a year. I plan on doing the Mc’Cheyne plan next, as it puts you through Psalms/Proverbs and the New Testament twice in the year.

 

Eternal God

March 3rd, 2013

EternalGodEternal God: A Study of God without Time, by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed the book God and Time-Four Views where Paul Helm was one of the contributors, and who argued for a classical interpretation from Augustine of a timeless God, who exists completely outside of time. This book is a further elaboration of his statements referred to in the four views text. Helm wrote an additional four chapters from the original edition to answer some of the criticisms of his work. Various criticisms still exist (e.g., see the review of this book at http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/eternal_god_a_study_of_god_without_time . The criticism that Helm remains aloof to new thinking on time is a poor argument; see my most recent review on the physics of time. The criticism of Helm lacking a philosophical grasp of time is completely unfounded. Though Helm prefers to remain biblical in his arguments, he seems to consider philosophy as a subset of theology, thus is entirely philosophical in his response. Helm realizes that he simply cannot provide a perfect answer as to how a being outside of space and time can think, move, act, create. Much of his argument is to show that answers other than his own do not make matters any more explainable. One could end up with a God that is not omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, but the sacrifice  leaves a god in man’s image and not the God of Scripture. William Lane Craig attempts to create a hybrid God, that can emerge from timeless existence and enter time. Helm adequately shows that this concept still leaves many philosophical inconsistencies. The book was a slow read, in that I am not used to endless philosophical terminology, yet it was easy enough to grasp where Helm was going, and thus is readable for those outside of the philosophic profession. It’s a wonderful read for those willing to venture into topics rarely ever addressed in sermons or devotional texts.

 

The Mystery of Banking

January 29th, 2013

The Mystery of Banking, by Murray Rothbard ★★★★★

This book starts out as a technical treatise on economics, explaining in fairly simple language and graphs how economics works in the real world. Rothbard then develops the history of banking in the Western world in the last 200 years, showing from an Austrian economic perspective where things have gone wrong. Rothbard is especially critical of fractional reserve banking, adequately showing how it amounts to nothing but dishonesty and theft. Rothbard shows how a return to the gold-standard is entirely doable, that the fear of not enough specie is unwarranted, even in a massive economy such as the USA. I admit that I didn’t follow all of the arguments, perhaps owing to my absence of complete familiarity with banking terminology. Even still, there is enough to glean from the book to sufficiently familiarize one with the root causes for the economic mess that we are now in. I’ll definitely be reading more of Rothbard. It is sad that Austrian economics takes such a severe hit from the so-called “conservative” politicians, who unknowingly mirror the thinking of their “liberal” colleagues. This book is a worthy reading, even for one conversive in economics. It’s free, you can easily download it and read it on your iPad, so there is no excuse.

De Profundis

January 29th, 2013

De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde ★★★

It is hard to rate a book like this. I like the style in which Oscar Wilde writes, but he excels in being bizarre, sometimes  exceeding Franz Kafka. This book, as a select collection of  letters written from two years in prison, is more  autobiographical than an intentional work of literature. The book was actually heavily edited, leaving out names and other items. Oscar Wilde apparently had a homosexual tryst with a young man of royalty, and was convicted. He spent time in three prisons during the two years of his sentence. The letters give one a feel for the intimate Oscar Wilde.

Wilde is superb at describing intimate emotions, such as his disgust with the prison system. You obtain a strong sense of the pathos that Oscar experienced in trying to survive and remain sane during the two years of inprisonment. One can also see an evolution in Wilde’s thinking. Early in the book, he talks with disdain about God and religion. Later, he spends his entire time waxing eloquent about religion and the virtues of Christ. I would scarcely call it a conversion.  Wilde had no remorse over the consequences of his actions, neither had he remorse over his sin. God is a pantheistic, all-loving, gentle, non-challenging, non-moral creature and so sin is not an entity to contend with. Though Wilde experiences great grief over his actions, it would be the same grief and pity that the typical American experienced while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ; one felt pity for the sufferings of Christ, but a pity that would have been similar if a cute little puppy dog was needlessly slaughtered, like the pity over the death of Old Yeller. Mel Gibson, like Oscar Wilde, failed to realize the difference between grief for someone or something else’s suffering, and the grief and sorrow that one should experience for sending Christ to the cross because of one’s sin. In the closing paragraphs of the book, Wilde describes his plans for when he leaves prison. He will smell the flowers, meditate on the seashore, and behave as a different person. Inside, it is the same old Oscar. The book is a delightful account of the psychology of Oscar Wilde, which should not be emulated or repeated in the reader.

 

Babbitt

January 24th, 2013

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis ★★★

I don’t recall who recommended that I read Babbitt, but it was that recommendation that led me to download it free and read it on the iPad. Written by Sinclair Lewis in the 1920’s, it was one of the books that led to Lewis obtaining the Nobel Prize in literature. Thus, I assumed that it must be an epic, monumental read. It was nothing of the sort. Lewis was born around the turn of the century in Minnesota, and seemed to have rebelled against his upbringing. Writing satirical novels about the culture of middle America, Lewis achieved temporary fame, leading to his death by alcoholism.

Babbitt is the story of a go-getter real estate salesman in the town of Zenith, a generic large town located in the mid-west. Babbitt is successful, but not flagrantly so, seeming to be bedeviled by those few people wealthier than him. The initial descriptions in the book paint him as a man lacking true character, constantly hassling with his two children and wife, yet not really heading anywhere in life. He goes to church, but most of his life is led in superficial goodness, while never being ashamed of pulling less-than-honest slick real estate deals to get ahead. His relations at the athletic club, the Presbyterian church, and other social community groups maintains his status in society, while demanding little of him. His one friend, Paul R. and he decide to depart on a several week getaway up to Maine, to be met later by the wives. Not long afterwards, Paul ends up in a quarrel with his wife, shoots her, and then ends up several years in prison while she gets religion. Later, Babbitt’s wife takes a long leave of absence, allowing Paul to participate in some trysts, leading to him on a fast downward spiral of alcoholism and liberalism, rejecting everything conservative about his past. Only after his wife returns and lands in emergency surgery for appendicitis does Babbitt realize the errors of his ways and returns to his conservative, superficially high-moral friends and is restored to their company.

Lewis spends much time painting religion as either the occupation of deranged and troubled individuals, such as Pauls’ wife, or as a superficial gloss of morality without any depth of substance or meaning. Realizing that he also wrote a satire on American religion (Elmer Gantry), it is clear that he has a distinct anti-religious agenda. Lewis desires to paint the typical American as culturally naive and socially stagnant. Life for the typical American in the 1920’s according to Lewis lacks originality, is dreadfully goal/success oriented. Unfortunately, Lewis paints two straw characters. Though he is noted have done “research” for the writing of his book, he perhaps paints a description of himself rather than that of any typical 1920’s American. True, Lewis was a liberal socialist and Babbitt was a conservative Capitalist. Other than than, the character of Babbitt is really that of Lewis. If only Lewis could realize how his life would descend into absolute meaninglessness and eventually “suicide” through alcoholism. The straw man of American religion that Lewis paints is even more sorry. It is true that in the 1920’s already, the mainstream churches of America had lost their heart and soul, and Lewis saw that clearly. Unfortunately, particulars don’t form generalizations, and his jabs at Billy Sunday (called Rev. Monday in Babbitt) are frequent and sadly uninformed.

Perhaps the greatest strength in a book like Babbitt is to induce one to question one’s own life. What is it that gives it meaning? Where does one find escape from ennui, trivialness, absence of direction? It is the religion that Lewis attempts to satirize that offers his only chance of escape. In the Koheleth (Ecclesiastes), the preacher explores the idea of everything being futile and meaningless. Solomon was able to resolve the issue of meaningless in life in a way that Lewis was not.  Lewis has unknowingly become the object of his own satire. Pity him and do not make his same mistakes.

Against Christianity

November 25th, 2012

Against Christianity, by Peter Leithart ★★

This book is Peter Leithart’s latest publication, and with the provocative title, decided it was worth reading. It wasn’t. I have generally appreciated Leithart’s thinking and writing, but this book was a let-down. The preface begins with praise for various theologians, all in the new perspectives on Paul camp, various ethicists (Yoder & Hauerwas) and historian Wayne Meeks.  The NPP theologians have certainly created a stir in the Reformed Theology camps, yet seem to offer a diminishment of the gospel of the Reformers rather than a new enlightened perspective. I wouldn’t call them heretics, but I’d definitely identify them as outside of the Lutheran/Calvinistic tradition. The two ethicists’ writings often lead one to question whether they believe in the God of the Bible. Hauerwas was incidentally poked fun at because of his foul mouth in the final chapter, not exactly illustrative of one who would serve to develop one’s ethic. This doesn’t mean that Yoder and Hauerwas are to be dismissed, as, for example, Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens is a superb, must-read classic. Meeks also leaves one wondering whether he truly believes the Scriptures to be the word of God, and would be better placed in the camp of theological liberalism. One would almost wonder why Leithart left out Barth and Kung as among his heroes?

The first chapter is titled Against Christianity. Leithart identifies that the word “Christianity” is never mentioned in Scripture, and then selectively identifies “Christianity” as meaning the rituals, cultus, and behavior that Christians experience. Leithart then waxes long against Christianity being a privatized religion, emphasizing instead the cultural and community aspects of living as a Christian. Salvation, according to Leithart, happens in an ecclesiastical context, stating “The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The church is salvation” (emphasis Leithart’s). The theme against the “McDonalization” of Christianity, Christianity rather being a counter-culture to the world, and against all that the world represents. It is opposed to both political conservatism as well as liberalism when the focus is not on the kingdom of God. While I am in general agreement with Leithart’s thesis, his rough edges tend to diminish his message. I disagree that the church is salvation without clarifying what one means by that. I don’t feel that we trash the word “Christianity”, or replace it with the word “Christendom” as he has later in the book.

Chapter 2 is titled Against Theology. The chapter can briefly summarized as Leithart being opposed to a theology that does not beget worship and service. Leithart is definitely NOT against theology, and the title of this chapter is deceptive, since Leithart would take very strong statements against muddled or poorly done theology, no matter how devotional it leaves the practitioner. Leithart says nothing new that many others haven’t already said. JI Packer in particular comments that “there is no God in Berkhof” because Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is good but dry and technical, implying that theology should spontaneously lead to praise and worship.

Chapter 3, Against Sacraments, is not against sacraments, but against the way in which they have evolved in the Christian church, though Leithart also implies the entire ritual of Christian worship as part of the sacrament. Speaking against the Reformers who promoted the preaching of the word above the sacraments, Leithart actually calls for a return to an elevated significance to the sacraments as a form of public worship, and against privatized religion. Leithart then discusses at length whether the sacraments are symbolic or reality, and the answer is that they are totally both.

In Chapter 4, Against Ethics, Leithart speaks not against ethics, but rather spends his time developing an alternative ethic for the church. And this ethic, like the chapters before, is an ethic of the counter-culture church. He refers back to patristic church life making a positive identity in the world by clashing with the accepted Roman ethic. Leithart calls us back to a truly biblical ethical system.

The last chapter, For Constantine, begins as a polemic against the many writers, such as Hauerwas, who have concluded that Constantine was the start of the downfall of the church. Leithart sharply notes that such writers provide only the most pessimistic approach to Christiandom being a seasoning on the whole of society. Yet, Leithart’s argument in this book is quite incomplete. I suppose he expects you to read his Defending Constantine, which is not a bad book but off the topic of this book. He ends by noting that the spirit has abandoned the church, but, somewhere and somehow the church will rise again.

So, how do I provide a global summary to this book? Leithart presents nothing new in this text that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. Oftentimes, the reader is left wondering whether Leithart has been smoking something just made legal in the state of Washington. He reads in a disjointed fashion with a chip on his shoulder. He is out to prove an issue, and not to solve a problem. Thus, in spite of my appreciation for the writings of Leithart, I find it difficult to give this book more than 2 stars.

Gulag Archipelago

November 18th, 2012

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ★★★★★

This book details the Soviet prison system between the years 1918 and 1956. It was written based in part on the personal experience of the author, as well as the numerous contacts that Solzhenitsyn had with Zeks (prisoners) in the system. The book was originally written as three large volumes, but later abridged by the author to be one volume, though still fairly large. I read the book on Kindle.

I won’t labor to detail chapter by chapter the contents of this book, but note instead that the author offers a mix of very detailed history of the soviet prison system, as well as a commentary as to the effects of this system on the Zek. Solzhenitsyn offers deep insights into the philosophic effects of the brutality of the system, that condemned those to prison for no good reason and no respectable trial, and lead to the death of countless, perhaps millions of innocent people. Solzhenitsyn shows how when the state becomes more important than the individual, absolute tyranny occurs.

Solzhenitsyn writes in a very moving, heart-felt manner. His insights are most valuable. The parallels with the way the US is going leaves me no doubt that the Gulag story will someday (perhaps soon) be seen in America. Solzhenitsyn does not appeal to revolution, as he saw first-hand how revolution only leads to deeper tyrannies. Instead, he calls for an internal revolution, a realization that ones’ relation with God is the only thing of importance, responding to the world in a moral fashion, which they will not be able to know how to handle. Those who are politically active would be well-served with a copy of this book in their hand.

Conspiracy-A Biblical View

November 18th, 2012

Conspiracy-A Biblical View, by Gary North ★★★★★

This is the best conspiracy book that I have read so far, and probably the last for a while. He will freely admit that there are “conspiracies” out there, yet he won’t titillate the unctions of the extremitists that feel that there is a conspirator or one of his agents under every rock and behind every tree. This book was downloaded free from Gary North’s website, and was read in .pdf fashion on e-books for iPad. The book is dedicated to Antony Sutton and Otto Scott. Sutton was the author of a recently reviewed book by me, who sacrificed academic advancement to tell the truth. Otto Scott is an author that I once met and mostly writes Christian perspectives on political matters. His book on Robespierre is first-class.

In the preface, North notes “at long last, a growing minority of Christians has begun to understand the theological and organizational nature of the cultural and civilizational war they are in, and have long been in, unbeknownst to most of their predecessors” and then quotes Pat Robertson’s book on the New World Order. North notes that “The issue here is the new world order. Jesus Christ inaugurated a New World Order. His followers call it the New Covenant. No other world order will ever replace it. But, there are rival orders and would-be orders. They have their spokesmen.” He then quotes George Bush, but notes that George Bush, in calling for a NWO, misses a few hundred generations, back to ancient Egypt and before. So, North quotes Isaiah, “You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fea. And He shall be your dread.” Isa 8:12-13. Again, “most historians have substituted some variation of cosmic impersonalism – the rule of impersonal forces – for the biblical concept of cosmic personalism: the rule of God. Conspiracy historians have usually substitued a rival version of cosmic personalism: the rule of secret societies. The thesis is the same…”. By now in the introduction, the reader should already have a good idea as to where Gary North is going.

The Introductory chapter first compares open vs. secret ministries, noting that Jesus was always open, thus putting the church in direct opposition with secret societies. North then develops the thesis of the existence of secret societies, none of which should be doubted. He asks “Then comes the inevitable question: Who is covering up? And why? Why the conspiracy of silence? Is all of this crazy? Or is some of it correct? What should the serious Christian think about conspiracies?” Chapter one develops arguments that show the reality of conspiracies, but quotes heavily from CS Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength whic talks about the secret government organization N.I.C.E. that is clandestine, and intends of suppressing the liberties of mankind, a suggestion that even CS Lewis took conspiracies seriously. The end of chapter again brings the reader back to a biblical viewpoint, noting that the conspiratorial time frame has been going on since Cain and Abel, with the fundamental ethical issue, “Which God should men worship?”. “There is one conspiracy, Satan’s, and ultimately it will fail”.  Chapter two discusses the biblical doctrine of human leadership, as modeled by King David. North then discusses the myth of the “will of the people”, as though the democratic process controls what happens in a western government. Yet, the people remain clueless (naive) as to how things really work. North diminishes the idea that our salvation comes through education, but rather, through a return to a biblical morality. I’ll quote one of North’s examples. Why did the sixteenth amendment on the federal income tax go through (perhaps/probably even illegally!)? The public was sold the bill that they should sock it to the rich. A moral public would have objected to that. It might not have been coincidental that the sixteenth amendment passed just at the time that theological liberalism was taking root in American society. North notes that moral principles are skirted by the plea for “value-free” (moral-free) solutions.

Chapter three delves into the theology of the conspiracy. He notes “the chief premise of the modern conspirator is this: Man, the savior of man.” After attacking Marxism, North notes that Christians must not hide and “wait for the rapture”, but need to become politically active. Because man is fallen, it is necessary to convey limited power to the ruling class, with absolute authority given only to God. North concurs that our constitution is correct in limiting power of the governed, which is why the constitution is now being skirted about by the ruling class. North realizes that there must be a sustaining religion that governs society. The church and state must remain separate but in alliance. Contrary to Marxism, “ethics is primary, not economics or political power”. North then viciously (and properly) attacks the system of fractional reserve banking, showing how it guarantees corruption. Later, North comments, “The motivation of conspiracies is simple: to be as God”.

Chapter four discusses specific conspiracies, but notes that should the various conspiratorial organizations be suddenly terminated, our problem would not be solved because other organizations would rise to fill the void. More important, according to North, is to be aware of their presence, and that their presence is contrary to Scriptural norms. The next chapter details how conspiracy historians have fared and failed in the course of history. An informed public is contrary to the intentions of the ruling elite. He uses numerous examples, one of which is the US entry into WWII, after heavily funding Hitler.  The role of the council on foreign relations is heavily mentioned. Yet, to believe in secret events that influence political policy and decision making, one will recieve the sarcastic accusation of Rockefeller “I never cease to be amazed at those few among us who spot a conspiracy under every rock…”. Chapter 6 notes that there have been people willing to take the insults of Rockefeller and speak the truth. Carroll Quigley is heavily quoted, as well as James Billington. The response of the elite scholars goes in three phases 1) It isn’t true, 2) It’s true, but irrelevant, to 3) We knew all about it years ago. Chapter seven notes disruption of the conspirators, as the public becomes aware of the inside actions of the power elite. North calls for a counter-offensive of a) self-education, b) morally grounded mobilization, c) cut off the funds to the State. Chapter 8 calls for the replacement of evil with good. North appeals to replacing the power elite with godly men. Victory comes through steady, long-term replacement. Action begins locally, by being a member of a committed church. It comes through raising children in a family and not educated by the state. It comes through becoming politically active. It comes through educating others as to what is really going on.

I appreciate this book since it puts a strong biblical perspective on conspiracies. They are not something to fear or run from, but to fight again, since the fight is a theological battle. In this regard, a previous book that I reviewed by Leithart remains completely consistent, contrary to comments to my review that are posted on this website. And, I’d expect that, since Leithart studied under Gary North at one time. The reality is that there is only one conspiracy that has existed through the ages, but manifested in various ways, shapes and forms. Christians should seriously realize that many of whom they deem to be “christian” are a part of the “other” side, and that political party doesn’t separate the Christians from the pagans. This book is free, it is easy to read, and clearly offers a solution to the “conspiracy”. There is no excuse to not download and read it. (That means you too Dennis! Please read the book before commenting! It’s a price that you can afford)

Brotherhood of Darkness

November 18th, 2012

Brotherhood of Darkness, by Dr. Stanley Monteith ★★★

Dr. Monteith has a engaged in the collection of information on conspiracies for many years, in order to write this book. He provides a very brief overview of the many “conspiracy” groups out there, and how we should respond to them. This is an easy-to-read, short, four chapter book, the last chapter taking up about half the book. Monteith first emphasizes the importance of grasping the concept that politics and world affairs are not necessarily occurring the way the news states that they are. Perhaps there are people and groups that are influencing how things happen, that go unnoticed by the general public. Chapter two dashes through a lengthy array of groups that have influenced state politics throughout that last several hundred years, including various bankers such as the Rothschilds, the trilateral commission, etc., etc.  He notes the influences that have brought on the world wars, but particularly notes how the Jews have often been unjustly the scapegoats. Needless to say, the amount of evidence of support from the Western world for the two world wars, and to the rise of communism can no longer be disputed. The ultimate question as to why the Rockefellers, Wilson, Roosevelt, and others dumped billions of dollars into the Bolsheviks and subsequent Soviet state may not ever be answered, yet the fact that without their activity, wars and oppressive states would never have existed. Chapter three elaborates on chapter two, providing further evidence, mostly based out of Quigley’s book Tragedy and Hope. Chapter 4 becomes more esoteric, elaborating on the role of the Masons, and then of occult Satanic organizations in attempting to form a one-world government. To this he is correct in that the struggle is not against the various states, but against the world and the people of God. I find it diffult to disagree with Monteith on this point, yet am perplexed as to his ultimate solution. How does he propose we fight these clandestine organizations? Certainly the call to godly living in implicit in his argument, but what does he propose we do about the Bilderbergers? Should we greet their meetings with bullhorns such as what Alex Jones is doing? Should we stop paying taxes and leave the country as brother Dennis did? Should we engage in public nuisance protests such as the Occupy movement? Monteith leaves one in the dark. Perhaps the next book on conspiracy that I review provides a much better approach to this subject, with a means of forming a personal response that is both effective and biblical.

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

November 18th, 2012

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Carl Trueman ★★★★

This is a short but sweet little book that can easily be read in one setting. It consists of three talks that Trueman gave regarding the status of evangelicalism. This was read on my iPad while on vacation to Israel.

The first chapter delineates the problem of defining evangelicalism. The issue is focused around a Wheaton professor who declared that he was returning to the Catholic church, yet still was able to sign the evangelical creed of Wheaton college. Chapter 2 focuses on several problem points for evangelical scholars. One is maintaining doctrinal intregity while competing for excellence in academia against liberals who tend to denigrate a strict biblical approach. Another issue is the weakening stance of evangelicals on morality, caving in on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. The third chapter concludes that with the loss of doctrinal basis, there really is no such thing any more as an evangelical. To quote the last sentence, ”

The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel. Until we acknowledge that this is the case—until we can agree on what exactly it is that constitutes the evangel—all talk about evangelicalism as a real, coherent movement is likely to be little more than a chimera, or a trick with smoke and mirrors.”

Trueman offers nothing new in what many other conservative scholars have been saying about the crisis in conservative evangleical Christendom. His style of writing is enjoyable, yet the content is weighty and holds serious concerns. I can’t recommend this book among the many others with a similar topic out there, with authors such as Os Guinness, DA Carson, and even Francis Schaeffer.

Minority Report

October 29th, 2012

Minority Report, by Carl R. Trueman ★★★★

This book is a minimally cohesive set of 16 essays written by Carl Trueman, and published as a single volume. Though the subtitle reads “Unpopular thoughts on everything from ancient Christianity to Zen-Calvinism”, I wouldn’t necessarily classify anything he says as distinctly unpopular to the conservative reformed movement. Trueman writes as a church historian, and his fundamental thesis is how our loss of a true historical perspective prevents us from having a correct present and future perspective. This is now the third book that I’ve read by Trueman, and  appreciate his writings as reflective of a slightly different than straight American conservative perspective. Unfortunately, his love for classic rock and roll and socialism in government clouds his thinking from being Biblical. He is a mix that provides both humor and seriousness to otherwise quite serious and vital topics.  Rather than summarize every one of the 16 essays, I’ll simply provide some highlights of the book that caught my attention.

Regarding his discussions with Rushdooney regarding denial of the holocaust, he states “the perplexingly popular (in some circles) Rousas J. Rushdoony, with some of his more distasteful followers” who perpetuate [such myths that the holocaust did not happen].

“American public morality is increasingly that of the marketplace, and moral truth is that which the cultural market forces permit, or, in some cases demand. Think for examples, of the recent emergence of phenomena such as gay gay tourism and gay television channels. Would these things happen if they did not provide opportunities for moneymakeing…” Then speaking of the new radicals in society “like pouting teenagers in pre-torn designer jeans and Che Guevara tee-shirts, they look angry and radical but are really as culturally conformist and conservative as ta tall latte from Starbucks”.

“I have a colleague who prayed for world peace at a recent service and was admonished for praying an “unAmerican” prayer. The fact that there is such a term as “unAmerican” is itself interesting. There is no real equivalent as far as I know in other countries with which I am familiar: what would “unDutch” or “unBritish” mean, I wonder? This is because “American” is not a term which speaks primarily of geographical location or a birthplace but rather of a set of values. Such values can be defined in various ways; but, however that may be done, “unAmerican” is regarded by all as a pejorative. That it can be used in a church context about a prayer for peace gives one worrying pause for thought…” Later, in talking about churches that also push a political agenda, “Bluntly put, if I have to buy your political manifesto in order to buy your gospel then your church is indulging in a dangerous confusion of categories and excluding individuals and groups from its congregation. They are excluded on grounds other than that of simply being outside of Christ. A gospel that is too American in this sense is no gospel at all”

At least three essays are spent on the issue of prominent Protestants converting back to Catholicism. To that he says “I find myself in smypathy [with the Catholic converts in] the problems described as part and parcel of some trajectories of evangelicalism (the reinvention of Christianity every Sunday, the consumer-oriented worship styles, the overall intellectual superficiality and banality of evangelical approaches to theology, to hisotry, to tradition, and to culture); yet I still disagree with those individuals who see conversion to Rome as the answer. I would want to argue that conversion to confessional Protestantism is at least worth a glance as oanother option before deciding to throw one’s whole lot in with Rome. Confessional Protestantism has a heistoric, creedal integrity, it takes history seriously; it refuses to assume that the latest pulp evangelical primer on postmodernism is an adequate basis for ditching the whoe of its tradition; and it wants to take seriously what wthe church has said about the Bible over the centuries..”.

I’ll cease quoting at this point. As a set of essays, the book lacks the cohesivity that I expect when somebody binds a smattering of writings together into one volume. Such an act in itself tends to trivialize the subject matter. Yet, Trueman is enjoyable to read, and provides a slightly different from mainstream through definitely Reformed position on life.

 

America’s Secret Establishment

October 27th, 2012

America’s Secret Establishment; An Introduction to the Order of Skull and Bones, by Antony Sutton ★★

America’s Secret Establishment is an exposé of the secret society located at Yale University called the Order of the Skull and Bones.  Sutton managed to obtain a modest amount of documentation and information detailing the character and nature of this very obscure society, where even the most inane details of the society are considered top secret. The Order initiates only 15 people per year, all male, and thus maintains a tight seal on the membership and activities of the Order. For the most part, much of what Sutton had to say about the Order was entirely conjectural, since information was not available. What Sutton was able to determine was the membership of the Order, and thus to identify influences in America and throughout the world that these individuals played. Through extrapolation, Sutton was able to conclude that the Order had every intention on turning the world into one massive socialist state, the New World Order.

Though Sutton is quite informative about the Skull and Bones, his book left too much out to make it of value. First, he concludes that the Order controls every aspect of American society, not only from politics, but religion, economics, business, education, and law. This is hypothesized, since there happen to be members of the Order who are prominent lawyers, and high up in politics (presidency), and religion (control of Union Seminary). Yet, the Order tends to pick top of the Yale class students who are active in sports, highly sociable, i.e, the most-likely-to-succeed candidates. Thus, Sutton’s identification of members of the Order being involved in all aspects of society is slightly more profound that saying that there is an Ivy League or New England secret society conspiracy. That is not to say that I don’t find it bothersome that so many prominent leaders in society are members of a secret society. Unfortunately, our act of taking the Order seriously only increases the sense of significance that society members maintain.

The first chapter is a review of the evidence for the society, and the known structure of the society. Sutton makes it clear that this is not a right or left-wind political society, in that it has members from both stripes, including many liberals, as well and George Bush and William Buckley.  Chapter 2 tries to show how the Order has attempted to destroy education in America. He does this first by complaining against the new methods of teaching reading. He then outlines how educational theory came from Germany, and was brought into the US in an attempt to make every schoolchild a servile entity for the state. The basis for education, Sutton would say, is Hegelian. Perhaps it is also Kantian. Sutton has to blame all defects on Hegel, since it was Hegel that gave rise to both Karl Marx (socialism) and Adam Smith (capitalism). Plus, Hegel explains (according to Sutton) why the Order can make entirely opposite actions and be internally consistent—they merely are trying to create a Hegelian dialectic of two opposites, that will lead to a resolution, and the Order profits off of the entire process of resolution. The secret society of the Illuminati is occasionally thrown in, even though this society was eliminated in the late 1700’s. I guess Sutton figures it still lives on as a super-secret society, and the parent of the Order as well as the Fabian Society in England.

The third chapter delves into the Order creating war. Sutton leaves enormous gaps. He was able to identify various members of the Order acting as banking personnel that provided loans to both the Bolsheviks and to Hitler. With Hitler, it was a matter of shear corporate greed, and I doubt a conspiracy was involved, even members of the Order might have been involved in the secret trades with Hitler. With the Bolsheviks, it is another story, as Sutton presupposes that those Bankers that operated in Russia were able foretell the future of Soviet communism. It seems (correctly) that members of the Order perhaps saw an advantage of a strong Bolshevik influence in diminishing Western trade, such as with competition for the supply of oil.

The fourth chapter attempts to prove that the Order of Skull and Bones is deeply entwined with the occult, and is a Satanic society. He mentions certain rituals, and certain symbolism within the Order headquarters that offer unquestioned “proof” of such occultism occurring. Such may be the case, but Sutton’s evidence is flimsy, at best. The use of skull and bones, the note that initiates take a bath naked in mud, etc. seems more sophomoric than representative of a deep evil.

I read this book with the understanding from brother Dennis that Sutton was one of the more insightful investigators into the secret societies and conspiracies that are besetting America. Perhaps, but this book is so weak as to be laughable if it wishes to develop that thesis. Sutton so often has to provide conjectures. He suggests that there is a big circle of influence, through the Council of Foreign Relations, a tighter circle of the Order of Skull and Bones, but then, even in the Order, there is only a select few in the inner circle that truly control the Order, and thus control the world. This suggests that there is a substantial chain of command between circles, yet Sutton provides no evidence that this exists. Sutton must constantly bring back Hegel in order to explain why the Order seems to continually act in odds with itself. I find this reasoning entirely non-convincing. Even Christ noted that a house divided cannot stand, should the person be the devil himself.

After reading this book, I quickly reviewed another conspiracy book in my library, Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier.

This book does not seem to be intended to be read cover to cover. It covers a number of families, including the Rothschilds, Onassis’, Kennedy’s, DuPonts and Russells. Springmeier is a mostly self-acclaimed preacher with two years of bible school. He notes how these families have intimate ties with Judaism, Roman Catholicism, the Jehovah Witnesses, and Mormons, and thus indites them all as part of the conspiracy. He is able to trace various families, and thus hypothesize regarding secret influences that these families have held on society.

The ultimate bottomline is that as I read more and more about the secret societies that rule the world, and create their own wars, stock market collapses, educational failures, etc., etc., I am less convinced that there is anything organized and controlling. I am more convinced that there is much out there that we will never know about; secrets exchanged, deals engaged, money, weapons, and technology transferred, all against the law, but all supporting the notion that all of mankind is fundamentally and to the core, evil. So it is not surprising that evil desires darkness to work its dirty deeds.

Sutton even admits that the John Birch Society has disagreed with him regarding the absolute significance of highly organized conspiracy. I agree with the JBS that the Order feeds the system with individuals that hold their own interests to the disadvantage of the rest of society. But, I must return to my book review by Peter Leithart, and heavily criticised by brother Dennis. Dennis even had the audacity of calling Peter Leithart an idiot, and simply did not understand the fundamentals about how the world really works. My final conclusion is that Leithart is the wiser, and perhaps the idiot is one who simply cannot believe that others might possess the more Scriptural insight. Perhaps Dennis did not realize that Leithart had studied under Gary North, and sits in the Reformed camp. To reiterate, Leithart emphasized that the “us” and “them” are not the people vs. the conspirators, but it is the people of God vs. the people of the devil. Leithart has a correct (and Reformed as compared to Anabaptist) sense of how Christians should interact with society. While the Anabaptists (and Dennis) create a gnostic sense of body/soul dualism, the Reformers see mankind as a monism, and that interaction in society is not in itself wrong. Thus, Christians can be active in politics, in public debate, in working to offer a Christian influence to society. To hide will not avoid the tarnish of secularism as the heart, even of the Christian, will remain to corrupt and destroy.

For those texts that are loved and devoured by conspiracy theorists, I have yet Caroll Quigley’s Tragedy & Hope. It may be a while before I get to that text. I plan to read yet a book by a physician on the brotherhood of darkness, as well as a book by Gary North on conspiracy theories. This whole subject of conspiracy theories looks interesting, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree that there is a handful of bankers and politicians that operate in a clandestine fashion to pretend that they “control” the world. Those who seek world domination are the greatest fools, failing to see how God controls them, and laughs at them. It is worth memorizing the second Psalm, that couldn’t have summarized things better, …

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

 

Affirming the Apostles’ Creed

October 25th, 2012

Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, by J.I. Packer ★★★★★

Packer takes 18 short chapters to briefly summarize the meaning of the apostle’s creed. This book is written more in the form of a devotional book or introductory text to the Creed. It is not an advanced analysis of the origin and substance of the creed. Still, Packer never writes fluff, and this book is pure solid meat all the way through. Packer has a way of bringing home the truths of Scripture to help one understand why every bit of doctrine is of vital importance. This book is worth reading for anybody of all ages. Betsy and I read the book together each morning before going to work.

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

October 20th, 2012

Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by Carl Trueman ★★★★★

This book is small and short, a compilation of a series of four lectures he gave at a conference in Wales in 1999. Contrary to the other book I had just reviewed by Trueman (Republocrat), I loved this book. It is light reading, in that it is composed as lectures. Trueman spares no punches. Trueman’s concern is the church, and these lectures are addressed to both intending to go into the ministry. The first lecture addresses the relevance of the Reformation in our day. Trueman addresses excesses, both in forgetting the lessons of the Reformation, but also the excess of idolizing the Reformation, and putting a halt to the principle that we need to be ever reforming the church. Perhaps both excesses are just as dangerous. The second chapter addresses the Bible as a book of sorrow, and speaks of how our fun-loving entertainment culture makes pleasure/happiness our goals even from the pulpit perspective. The third lecture refers back to the Scripture being our sole guide, and how ministers must have a total command of the Scriptures, including a mastery of Biblical languages and systematic theology. The final lecture wraps up with a discussion of our assurance in Christ, and how today’s world seeks to identify that assurance through either actions or feelings that we experience, rather than focusing completely on Christ.  This book is a highly relevant read, a reminder of the faith that we have but are so quick to forget.

Durch die Wüste

October 19th, 2012

Durch die Wüste, by Karl May ★★★★★

Durch die Wüste means “Through the Desert”, and is the first of many adventure novels published by Karl May, written at the end of the 19th century. It is an adventure story along the lines of Indiana Jones, and probably served as the model for Indiana Jones and other similar movies. The adventurer, Kara ben Nemsi travels from the North Saharan desert across Egypt, to Mecca, and ends with him preparing to enter Kurdistan, thus the sequel is Durch Wilde Kurdistan. I read the book in order to better understand German, and it was great at being about 98% understandable, with only a few parts completely passing me by. I’ll probably continue the novels, but the read is rather slow. It took me about 3-4 months to get through this book, and was read on my Kindle. The book is highly recommended for those learning German.

 

None Dare Call it Conspiracy

October 18th, 2012

None Dare Call it Conspiracy, by Gary Allen ★★★

Who doesn’t want to rule the world? While madmen like Dr. Evil, Pink Panther and James Bond villians, and others have been made the brunt of Hollywood comedies and spy films, it perhaps distracts us from the fact that there may be people who would like to rule the world. Some have been accused of desiring world domination, like Adolf Hitler and Mao TseTung, but history and available evidence suggests otherwise. It is unfortunate that those least accused of desiring world domination are those most obscure to most of us. The effort of this book is to point out those groups and individuals. Allen begins the book by simply stating that the evidence is so overwhelming of a mass conspiracy, that doubting the conspiracy suggests that one is blind to the facts. Yet, Allen fails to provide any substantial proof in this book that such an entity exists. Allen focuses mainly on the international bankers and Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), of which the bankers have an intimacy. Little mention is made of the Bilderberg group, the Club of Rome, the Jesuits and Illuminati, and other hypothetical world conspirators. I’m sure there are many more groups out there. I’d like to rule the world, so, I guess that I am a one-man conspiracy. Allen is prudent enough to disengage himself from the more dark shadowy groups out there, like the Illuminati and Masons. Allen has a good point in this book. It is in the bankers best interest to have a controlling influence on politics, while not having to have a public face. It is in the interest of CFR members to control world policy to their best interest. If one calls it a conspiracy that the bankers and CFR (and Bilderbergers) are intimate, perhaps there is a conspiracy out there.

Much discussion was given to the banking influence at fueling world conflicts. Allen discusses what many already know that bankers such as the Rothschilds were funding both sides of the conflict in both WWI and WWII, and have done much to force conflict to happen. Allen might have included many other major conflicts. He fails to explain precisely why banking would be interested in funding the weaker side of a conflict, knowing that the money will be lost forever. He also fails to include the host of other factors that fuel the wars and conflicts that occur in today’s world. I simply cannot accept the statement of so many conspiracy theorists that it was the bankers were the predominant factor that created the major conflicts of the world. It had to have been greatly multifactorial, with banking simply facilitating and encouraging on the conflicts.

Is it the conspiracy (Allen calls them the Insiders without telling you exactly who they are) that is leading the world to various forms of socialism, whether it be national socialism, fabian socialism, or international socialism (communism)? I doubt it. I can see how fabian style socialism can be desirable by the super-rich such as Soros or Rothschild, since it allows them to control decisions that ultimately serve their own interests. In other forms of socialism, everybody loses except for a single few people. How communism would be desirable to bankers escapes me, yet Allen suggests that ultimately bankers and Insiders would like the entire world under strong socialist monetary control.

Worst for this book is failing to understand that man is inherently evil and self-oriented, and that any position of power will ultimately seek to further one’s own best interests. Allen fails to suggest that events, circumstances, economic cycles, wars, poverty and wealth follow certain paths and laws outside of any evil minded masterplots, and that in all aspects, whether in the big or the small picture, God is in control. So, people will think that they are in control, only if we remain blistfully unaware of them.  Allen provides part of the picture, but not the big picture, of what’s going on out there. And for part of the picture, it is worth reading. The book is a little bit dated, written in 1972 when the USSR was still going strong.

 

Between Babel and Beast

October 14th, 2012

Between Babel and Beast, America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, by Peter Leithart ★★★★★

This is one of the better books I’ve read in a while, and so will spend more time than usual in offering a review. It is uncommon that I would order more copies of a book soon after completing it, in order to encourage others to read the book, but this book is an example of such a text. It is a must-read for Americans. I  enjoy reading Leithart, even though our denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) has occasionally attempted to label him a heretic for his stance on federal vision, an entity that I’ve yet to have a competent theologian adequately define for me.

I’ve been  interested in the dynamics and politics and religion since it is an election year, and the politicians are out selling themselves. Some theonomists would argue that there is no difference between politics and religion (such as Rushdooney), since the only legitimate government is a Christian government that follows the civil law of Moses. Such will be the case when the saints alone rule the earth in their original condition absent of original sin. Until then, we must always differentiate between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Leithart asks a penetrating question as to how the kingdom(s) of man treats those of a Christian faith. Do the various nations of the world act against God’s kingdom or in support of it?

The introduction to the book first explains the purpose of Leithart writing the book. In a way, it is a sequel to another book he wrote titled “Constantine”. This book was reviewed by me previously. Before beginning the book, Leithart gently reminds the reader that he (assuming that the reader is an American Christian) is first and foremost a Christian, but also a reminder that America is a part of the city of man. He will elaborate on that much further in the book.

The first three chapters with its conclusion are a history of empires from a biblical perspective. Beginning with the first empire ever, Babel, Leithart outlines in the first chapter the evolution and children of Babel through the book of Genesis. Babel is not used in a particularly perjorative sense, but simply to define an institution that is the “city of man”, a political state or empire established on earth. Introduced in Genesis is also God’s imperium, God’s rule on earth, found in those faithful to Him. The promise to Abraham to build him into a great nation echoed that counter to the Babel that Abraham came out of. Chapter 2 continues with the children of God (Israel) being delivered from the Babel of Egypt. The allusions to the similarity of Abraham being called out of Ur were emphasized. Similarly, the call of the Jews out of Babylon/Persia back to the land of Israel was again likened to the exodus of Moses. Leithart spends much time in Daniel, first discussing how empires could be beasts (by mistreating God’s people) or not, such  as Cyrus returning the Jews back to the homeland. Thus, the conclusion was that the Old Testament was not against empire, but against rival imperialisms, “rival visions for the political salvation of a human race”. The third chapter continues into the Roman empire, with both bad news (the execution of Christ and martyrdom of the saints) with good news, such as with Constantine and most the emperors after him supporting the Christian church, and allowing it to behave freely. Good news included protections in the apostolic period, where Paul appealed frequently as a citizen of Rome, and Rome protecting Paul, giving him free transport to Rome to build the church there.

Chapters 4 & 5 comprise a new section, titled “Americanism”. Chapter 4 (Heretic Nation) describes what it means to be American, holding “an assurance that the declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution establish the best political order the world has ever seen, the last best hope of mankind… Our national self-consciousness is a “Messianic consciousness””. Chapter 4 is a lengthy chapter that I will inadequately summarize. Leithart discusses how with the rise of Constantine and eventually the fall of Rome, the struggle for identity of the roles of church and state have been prevailing themes. Church historians, including Eusebius emphasized that Constantine was like another Moses, delivering the people of God. Thus a transformation occurred on how church and state regarding each other. Such examples include Pope Gregory VII instituting the concept of a holy war. As national identities became more prominent in Europe,  the state played on this notion, leading to many religious wars. The puritans sought delivery from this, sailing to America to form a new hope for man, a new world order, a nation that could be religiously free and beacon to the world; essentially, it was the formation of a new “Israel” , and puritan reading of scripture had a strong nationalist bent. Leithart offers many examples throughout American history of politicians likening America to the new “Israel”. Leithart continues, “Americans are today biblically illiterate, but biblical cadences continue to echo in our political rhetoric, setting the terms of our nation purpose and mission. It was no accident that President Bush memorialized the first anniversay of 9/11 with a Statue of Liberty speech full of intertexual links with the opening verses of John’s Gospel… Bush like many American Christians, has so instinctively and viscerally identified Jesus with the spread of American-style liberty that he can hardly distinguish them.” American wars were referenced to “Americanist typology…  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord,” … fighting and dying like Christ not to make men holy but “to make men free””. Concluding, “Sacrifice American style can only go on and on. For in Americanism, this fourth great biblical religion, there is no final sacrifice, no end to bloodshed until we have rid the world of evil, until the American creed becomes the creed of humnity. In this too, we are a heretic nation”. Chapter 5, summarized briefly, mixes quotes which adamantly state that we are not an empire and we do not interfere with the affairs of other nations, with the examples that prove that we do everything but that. Starting with Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, Monroe’s doctrine, speeches from Washington, he shows the extreme political hypocrisy. Sadly the examples of history do NOT start with our involvement in WWI like we are typically taught, but rather from the inception of our empire, with the war against the Barbary Pirates in 1803, to our involvement in conflicts in the Philippines in 1813, our treatment of the Indians, and our development of manifest destiny, all show our early and aggressive entanglements around the globe.

Part III of the book, labeled between Babel and Beast, everything is attempted to be put into context of how Christians should view America. Chapter 6, American Babel, starts…”Europe’s secularization is its long retreat from Christendom, the disestablishment of the church, the decline of active Christianity, the migration of the holy from the church to the nation. Americanism is impervious to secularization of the European variety because America was never part of Christendom to begin with”. The growing spirit of the importance of the American message in the world is then shown by Leithart in numerous historical examples, one example being that of John Foster Dulles, a very devout Christian, who helped form the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and felt it important for America to make the rules for how nations should behave with each other. In all points “American policy must estabish, ensure, and maintain the dominance of America. Whether the dominance was of American ideals or America as a great power dictating the terms of a world made comparatively little difference”. Later, Leithart states “Anyone who thinks that apocalypic political rhetoric is a thing of the past, or who thinks that Americans have given up thinking of ourselves as a messianic nation, … has not been listening carefully to the rhetoric of the war on terror. . . Americanism is a mythology that justifies American power and explains–sometimes explains away–American action… Scratch Americanist rhetoric, and the reality beneath the skin is often un-American and undemocratic. These inconsistencies are perhaps inherent in Babelic imperialism: Babels call the nations to a glorious vision of a single tower and city ands speak with a single lip, but the aim is finally to promote Babel’s interests and advance Babel’s power.” Many examples of America advancing their influence in the world contrary to our own states principles are given. Leithart offers a lengthy diatribe against our stated agreement from the 1923 Hague conference against using warfare, most notably aerial  bombardment, as a means of inflicting injury on civilian populations. The offenses  against warfare against civilians since 1923 are too numerous to mention, but perhaps one needs to be reminded of the true story of Kurt Vonnegut in Dresden at the end of WWII. It makes one want to weep. Chapter 7 finally asks whether America, as an empire (Babel), is a good empire, or an evil one (beast). He mentions how the US has done great good, mostly through our citizens (eg., Voice of the Martyrs, intervention on Afghan converts, etc.), something no other nation would have done. The tone quickly changes as to how much of our foreign aide has gone to nations who aggressively suppress Christianity. In effect, much of America’s actions seem to be detrimental to the kingdom of God (the church) on earth. He ends with the sober admonitions, “we play with beasts, and our Americanist lenses do not allow us to see the danger. We fund our favorite beasts, then turn a blind eye when they devour the saints. It is a dangerous position, not only for the Christians who suffer at the hands of our allies, but also for the United States. Those who consort with beasts might become bestial, and beasts do not long survive”. “As far as Christians are concerned the only appropriate response is to repent of being Americanists…”.

Unfortunately, most who read this book, or the summary that I offer, will either a) object vehemently to Leithart’s admonitions, feeling that he is unfair to the American experiment, or b) somehow feel that we are beyond or above this book. None of us are above the admonitions in this book. Americanism has pervaded us to the point of being beyond recognition. Leithart does not call us to leave the U.S. We cannot establish a haven elsewhere in the world as such an action is nothing more than repeating the error of our ancestors in coming to America. He is quite perceptive about identifying the political mis-thinking of much of the American church, and to that we must give our undivided attention.

As a side note, Leithart does not hold to conspiracy theories, or a dark mind working behind everything. He would be the first to identify the crisis of Babel results from original sin, which is unescapable in this life. I would agree that Americanist ideology is the second tier above that, as Leithart identifies in this book. The corruption and influence of the trade and banking system is only subservient to the ideology of Americanism, whether it be to oppress poor nations by import tariffs, or create wars to promote the military industrial complex. Those who feel that the bankers control the world are naive to the ideologies that control the banking systems. Whatever your take on this book, the reader will find it thought provoking, and well organized. To Americanism, we must weep and repent.

 

Christless Christianity

October 9th, 2012

Christless Christianity, by Michael Horton ★★★★

By now, those who follow my blog might have noted that I have recently reviewed now three books by Michael Horton. I believe this to be the last, at least for a while. I tend to pick up an author and attack a few of their books before moving on, and that’s what I’ve done with Horton.  Like the book just reviewed on the Christian in culture by Horton, this book is another “me-too” book, this time discussing the loss of Christ in the American church. Horton is following in the heels of a number of superb writers on this subject, including Schaeffer, Carson, David Wells, Os Guiness, just to name a few. Yet, Horton does a superb job of putting things together, so he is not entirely repetitive in the task at hand. Several chapters in this book are superb, including the discussion of “smooth talking” and of a “personal Jesus”. Horton excels at developing the theological basis for the problem in the church, as well as the fix. Fundamentally, whether the church is liberal or conservative, they have the same problem, though manifested differently. Both conservative and liberal Christians have focused on the individual, the personal relationship, the walk in the garden with an experience that “none other has ever known”. What is lost is the church, as people turn inward to their own spiritual experience. The church meanwhile attempts programs and strategies for recruiting the member. Rarely do they ever consider returning to what Christ asked the church to do, which is simply to preach the word and to administer the sacraments. Horton likens it to a form of gnosticism to be focused on inner spirituality, while ignoring the church as Christ’s body on earth. Horton uses many examples to develop his thesis. In several chapters, he focuses on a particular person, including Joel Osteen in particular and his focus on happiness rather than the gospel. This book is worth reading for a theological insight into the status of the American church, and is a quite easy read that can be accomplished in several evenings.

Where in the World is the Church

October 9th, 2012

Where in the World is the Church? A Christian view of culture and your role in it, by Michael Horton ★★★

Michael Horton, in this book, resurrects discussion going on since 1951 when Richard Niebuhr published the book Christ and Culture. In that book, Niebuhr discusses the various in which Christians have viewed their dynamic with culture. Five different approaches have been categorized by Niebuhr, and Horton latches onto the last, with Christ as the transformer of culture. In successive chapters, Horton explores the Christians’ interaction with philosophy, the arts, science, work, and then politics. Horton offers advice that he need to engage culture, but in a manner that our Christian orientation tends to be the influencing aspect to the culture that we encounter. Such a book as this has been written many times before, with different perspectives on the Christian’s involvement with the world. My frustration with the book is Horton’s avoidance of defining fundamentals. In the sciences, he speaks little of the presuppositional bases that influence how we make observations about the world about us. In the arts, he fails to discuss the possibility that art can be communicating something quite wrong. As an example, Horton would be very cautious about calling pornography art, and would be quite opinionated about such artworks as “Piss Christ”. Francis Schaeffer did a better job of exploring the fundamental philosophy behind any given artwork, whether it be painting, literature, or music. Our engagement with culture mandates discernment. Horton spends much time discussing “Christian” art or “Christian” science, presented by many as though it offered something better than what culture typically gives us. I agree that such overtly Christian art is usually cheap, if not disgusting. Horton calls us as Christians to engage the secular arena in a manner that preserves our Christian base.

Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace

October 7th, 2012

Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace, by Richard Lee Spinos ★★

Rick Spinos requested that I read and review this book for him, and I have agreed to do that for him. So I offer my review. Rick and I grew up in the same denomination together, which was in the Anabaptist (Amish-Mennonite) tradition. They held to an “Arminian” type of theology, with a strong emphasis that one could lose their salvation. Rick went on to be a missionary sent from his Richland, WA congregation to Brazil, and since has become a pastor to a Charismatic church in south Florida with a focused ministry to those of the Portueguese language.

The introduction to the book defines the nature of the book. Spinos sees the Calvinists as a “once-saved-always-saved” group, and thus offering an antinomian license to live as one pleases, and the Arminians as legalists constantly fearing losing their salvation, and thus living with multiple codes and rules in an attempt to obtain holiness. Spinos wishes to clarify issues with an appeal and case for holy living.

The first chapter discusses the nature of grace, and introduces the idea that all Christians have eternal security. Chapter 2 provides a further argument that through grace, Christians indeed have security, and that they need not fear losing their salvation. Chapter 3 discusses the kingdom, and he seems to suggest the millenial kingdom, where Christians obtain the reward for the good things they have done. Chapter 4  and 5 elaborates further on this, but run together. The fundamental idea of these chapters is that we are saved by grace, but our reward for works will be received in the Millenium, and are gained by our actions in life.

Chapter 6 continues elaboration of obtaining rewards, and ends with a discussion of crowns. At one point, it is mentioned that the number of converts we win decides the nature of crown we have. There are also a limited number of crowns, and so, it is possible that somebody else is super-good (and persuasive?) and will take our well-earned crown from us. These are the crowns that will be worn during the millenial age. Chapter 7 furthers elaboration on holiness in the millenial age. Spinos does not make it clear, but it sounds like the saints are still sinful, and yet absolute and strict perfection is now demanded of them. He doesn’t explain how this will happen. He mentions that  the not-so-holy saints will suffer some of the fires of hell in order to be purified. Pope Benedikt would concur. Chapter 8 develops the holiness theme by a discussion of cosmology in Genesis 1 and with the question of God’s purpose. Ultimately, Spinos concludes that God’s purpose is to populate a earth with godly people. Besides the liberties taken to expand upon the “gap theory” (the time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2 where Satan hypothetically ruled the earth until God destroyed earth), he takes liberties to explain God’s ultimate purpose. Contrary, the bible clearly delineates man’s purpose or chief end (to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever), but never places God in dependence upon man or defends a purpose for God as Spinos does. Spinos, like Scofield, will unabashedly admit that mankind can alter the plans of God, quoting him from this chapter “God’s will and central plan was temporarily delayed”. Living for God generates those who are more successful than others, and become “overcomers”. Such a theology cheapens grace, and minimizes the nature of sin. Spinos does not paint man like Isaiah who responded while in God’s presence, “Woe is me, For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”. Spinos’ godly man has notches on his belt from the souls saved and victories won. He has done God a favor, and God rewards him for that.

Chapter 9 is a short encouragement for evangelism and discipleship in order to grow the church. The assumption is that we are responsible for converts, i.e., we, and not God, calls people to faith in Him. Chapter 10 is a question and answer session. Here, the author affirms his stance on eternal security, suggests (insufficiently in my estimation) that his teaching is not synonymous with purgatory. Spinos ends with the 21 questions to ask a pastor before joining a particular church. This is a deviation from the thesis of his book and a terrible distraction, and so will not be commented on.

SUMMARY & DISCUSSION:

There are a few problems that I will discuss. Spinos’s fundamental thesis is based on a dispensational eschatology. I realize that to many, dispensational premillenialism is a litmus test for orthodoxy. Yet, the church had no idea of such thinking until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Worse, the millenium becomes for Spinos as a protestant form of purgatory where the bad saints spend time in outer darkness where the good saints reign with Christ and are improved to the point of being able to enter eternity. Dante, as well as most Catholics would agree heartily with this. Spinos counters this unconvincingly later in the book, since the theological ground for his thinking is identical to the Romish purgatory. Regarding eschatology, I happen to be an amillenialist, a poor name for the doctrine, since every amillenialist believes in a millenium, just not the same millenium that the dispensationalists teach. For Spinos, this is so important, the last statement in his book is regarding details of the tribulation/rapture. Again, the church had no concept of dispensational premillenialism until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Popularizers like Hal Lindsey are now up to their twenty-whatever revision of their eschatology books, as they tend to change every year. Lindsey does not give me a doctrine that I wish to adhere to.

Spinos contrasts Calvinism and Arminianism, and discusses how both can be correct. Yet, the Calvinism that Spinos describes in nothing like the Calvinism that I know and which is taught in most conservative Reformed Christian circles. Rather, it is like the pseudo-Calvinism of the dispensationalism camp of Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, Chafer, Walfoord, and Dallas Theological Seminary that confuses Calvinism with antinomianism.

Spinos does not seem to flinch at all when speaking of the doctrine of merits, failing to remember that the Reformation that brought us back to a biblical form of Christianity was fought largely over merits. To say things another way, quoting Paul, Gal 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Calvinists as well as Lutherans would argue that we have an imputed righteousness, as our own righteousness (and merits) remain as filthy rags. We stand before the judgment seat, as the old hymn says, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne”. This is a righteousnes that is not partly Christ’s and partly ours through the good works that we have done.The hymn writer could not have said it better.

Perhaps, Spinos needs to ask what he means by salvation. Salvation is presented in Scripture as past, present and future. In the present, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation includes many aspects, including our call, justification,  faith in Him, adoption into God’s family, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. I presume that although he never uses the work “justification” in the book, he is using “salvation” as solely referring to justification, and that salvation is (quoting the Westminster shorter catechism) referring to an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. In like manner, our pursuit of holiness would be termed sanctification, and again quoting the catechism, is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. It is not an infusion of righteousness, nor is it the acquisition of merit.

Spinos may find it odd, that after sitting under the pulpit of a strict “Calvinistic”- (i.e.Reformed – 5 point Calvinist) preacher, I never once yet heard the phrases “eternal security” or “once-saved-always-saved” except to speak against such concepts. I’ve heard many sermons on hell and our need to walk holy lives, which happens typically every Sabbath day. I’ve never heard a sermon telling me about the secret formula or second blessing that can make me holier. The sermons I hear are regarding the heinousness of sin, and need to live in covenant with God. I also hear that once we stand before God, we will have no merits to claim, no works of holiness will be good enough to satisfy the heinousness of even the most trivial sins that I’ve committed. We have nothing to give God but what he’s given us already. Luther knew that, which is what drove him away from the system of merits and start a reformation in the church. Sadly, it is human instinct to want to have something to attribute to ourselves, and we sink back into the semi-Pelagianism of the medieval church. This unfortunately is the state of the church today, as we have forgotten the heritage of Luther and Calvin.

Why should we live holy? I offer three short reasons. 1. God commands it. Read “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by JI Packer, who is also, if you wish, a “5-point Calvinist”. 2. God prescribed a holy life as ultimately offering us the greatest joy and best life here on earth. 3. We are in covenant with God, Him to be our God and us to be His people. The assurance that we have that covenant is in our desire to serve Him and live holy. If we lack that desire, even though we also desire strongly to sin, then we should doubt the possibility that we are even saved. The fifth point in Calvinism is often misquoted as “perseverance of the saints”, which is transformed into some strange antinomian doctrine of eternal security. It is everything but that, but is more accurately stated as “perseverance of the saints in holiness”. God will keep us, but He will keep us in holiness, sinful though we may be throughout life. Spinos’ answer that holiness accrues merit that gives more blessings in the millenium results in a very cheap form of grace, that can easily be passed on and still ultimately make it to heaven. This is fundamentally the doctrine of the Roman church, which is why the Catholic church is in the pitiful shape that it is.

Spinos senses a tension in theology, which is proper. Most of Scripture has tensions. We are saved by grace. We are saved by works. Both are true. God calls us. We “accept/believe” in Him. Both are true. God predestined everything that ever had and will happen in the universe through all eternity. Yet, we have have free will and responsibility to choose on our own. It doesn’t make sense to finite minds, but both are true. Most doctrines of Scripture have this tension. It is not good to attempt reconciliation of the two polar truths. To over-emphasize salvation by grace is to lead to the antinomianism of the dispensational school. To over-emphasize salvation by works is to lead to legalism and to underestimate the depth of our depravity. Such tension in life is spoken of by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and covered most adequately in the book by JI Packer referred to above.

I laud Spinos for his deep desire to walk according to Scripture and live for God. He writes in a clear format, and the book was fun to read. I hope that some of these comments will not be viewed in any way as malicious but simply to point out the doctrinal issues that I encountered in the book.

The Christian Faith

October 4th, 2012

The Christian Faith, A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, by Michael Horton ★★★★★

This book is truly a tour de force, a massive compendium of 990 pages of Horton’s thoughts on various topics in systematic theology. It is not an easy read, though it is quite an enjoyable read. From the very first pages where Horton waxes philosophical, he issues barrage after barrage in defense of the historic Reformed Christian faith. The manner in which the book is written makes it better to read the book cover to cover rather than in individual topical style. It is not like a typical systematic theology text, in which a given topic is presented, the various contending viewpoints presented, and then a defense for the author’s position is offered. Occasionally that form is followed, such as with the discussion of the atonement. Oftentimes, the book has a looser format. It is like Horton is writing a running commentary on the themes of systematic theology. Thus, this book would serve poorly as a basic textbook of systematic theology, but should be manditory reading in conjunction with Berkhof or Reymond, or other contemporary systematic theology texts that follow a more traditional outline.

Horton offers a mix of quality of chapters. Occasionally, he gets bogged down. He can introduce concepts that are simply assumed, such as when he refers to differences in Greek vs. Latin thinking, without explaining the nuances of these differences. Some chapters are quite superb, such as his discussion of the union with Christ, which is developed better here than in any other theology text. His discussion of the creation of the world and man is very weak, and might even have a tendency of leaning toward theistic evolution. The discussions of eschatology seem to focus on a few contemporary authors such as Grudem and the dispensationalists, without fully developing the Reformed amillenial, premillenial, and postmillenial positions. The chapters on the doctrine of the church and the sacraments are superlative, but not comprehensive.

JI Packer stated in his systematic theology class that the textbooks of systematic theology need to be re-written every generation, as the role of systematic theology is to provide in contemporary words the eternal doctrines of the church, while at the same time confronting the contemporary challenges to that theology. In this respect, Hortons’ Systematic Theology shines. Horton has no fear of tackling modern thought, and Karl Barth, as well as modern theologians are very frequently quoted and either rebutted or used in support of his argument.

Even though I label this a systematic theology “running commentary”, it was a challenging but absolutely most enjoyable read, and most thought provoking. It sustains my highest recommendation.

Republocrat

September 13th, 2012

Republocrat, by Carl Trueman

Republocrat, Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, by Carl Trueman ★★

I read this book based on recommendations of readers at Amazon.com and several of the reviewers. The book has a good deal of truth to it, in that Trueman refuses to takes sides with either the Republicans or the Democrats. He successfully points out the hypocricy of the Republican Party, showing that their antics and behavior tend to be as immoral as the Democrats, pointing out when the Republicans turn a blind eye on their own immorality. Specifically, Trueman spends an entire chapter attacking Fox News, which tends to be the darling child of the conservative right. Trueman is also honest enough to offer his own bias, including his love for socialized medicine and heavily restrictive gun laws. He comes from England, and views our system in a very British manner. Trueman tends toward social conservatism and economic liberalism, though it would be unfair to say that as a blanket categorization of his position.

He strives hard to demand use of words that are specific to their meaning. His pet misused word is “Marxist”, claiming that Marx’s system is simply that of the economic resolution of dialectic tensions throughout history. Actually, anybody that has read Das Kapital realizes that it is more than that, in that Marx prescribes an entire economic system, and not just the philosophical basis for that system. Trueman fails in his own plea, in that even in the last paragraphs of the book, he speaks of Havel living in a “Marxist” state, suggesting that Marx offered more than a philosophical theory of economics. Trueman repeatedly uses the words “Capitalism” and “capitalist”, even though those are perjorative words coined by Marx himself, and tend toward the same meaningless statements as accusing somebody of being a Marxist.

Trueman’s greatest flaw is his inability to visualize anything beyond the political divides. As an example, he spends a great amount of time praising the British health care system, and asks whether it is better to have health care controlled by politicians vs. Capitalist insurance companies. In reality, the British system is bankrupt and a very poor example of an ideal health care system. I need not belabor how euthanasia and extreme waits for care are now bedeviling the British system. Neither need I suggest that the American system that has insurance companies so heavily regulated that they are no longer capitalistic systems need to be mentioned. Trueman fails to mention that both systems are woefully broken and worthy of being completely dismantled. Third party indemnification is the problem, not the solution, whether that third party is the government or the insurance company.

Truemans understanding of economics is a dismal lacuna. He fails entirely to see the problems of economics in the modern state, and the absence of morality of forced redistribution of wealth and artificial creation of “money” by the state. He praises the economic liberal pastor of Scotland ministering to Scottish miners living in poverty, yet becomes no different than American mega-church pastors that cater to the felt needs of their congregations.

I was extremely disappointed with this book. From the praise that so many conservative Reformed theologians gave to this book, it is clear to me that Reformed theologians should stay out of politics and stick to theology. This is seen clearly when JG Machen, a great Reformed theologian, lauded Woodrow Wilson, one of the worst presidents of all time. Trueman is caught in that same muddle. He argues for Scripture as a basis for viewing our politicians, but immediately lapses into sentimentality. Perhaps the only author that has been able force a biblical interpretation on economics and social issues of the state has been Gary North. Even though I don’t always agree with North, I always appreciate the fact that he refuses to tend toward sentimentality and forces his statements to maintain a biblical orientation.

In summary, Trueman does a muddled attempt in giving a Christian view of American politics. He is successful in showing that the Republican Party is not the moral or Christian party, but he fails entirely in offering a Christian alternative for thinking and action. Thus, I don’t consider the book worth reading.

Honest Money

August 9th, 2012

Honest Money, by Gary North ★★★★★

This book was read on my iPad in e-book format. Gary North offers very basic economics, but does diligence in seeking a biblical answer to the creation, flow, and use of money in an economy. North was an advisor to Ron Paul, and I’m sure influenced Paul significantly. I appreciate North’s insights into the economic scene, as well as his desire to avoid labeling himself an Austrian or free-market economist. I dreaded the possibility that he would have a lengthy appeal for return to a gold standard, which he does not. Instead, he suggests that the market itself can decide standards that determine value. Thus, the state would have no role in fixing the price of gold, silver and other commodities. In addition, the state would be removed from its role in the manufacture of “money” or the operation of banks. While this is radically opposed to our banking system, it seems far more reasonable than the current system, which, like all historically similar systems, will lead to collapse of the entire monetary system. North’s words will unfortunately be heeded by all too few people, and the government will continue to enslave us more and more. This is a book that can be obtained free from North’s website, can be read in a single evening or two, and should be on everybody’s must-read list.

Thinking with Type

August 9th, 2012

Thinking with Type, by Ellen Lupton  ★★

This book had an initial very strong appeal to me, that quickly wore off. While the title of the books seems to suggest that the principle topic of the book is typography, it is not. Rather, it is a manual of modern design ideas. Ellen suggests that her goal is not to encourage readability, but to encourage the reader not to read. I quote “Although many books define the purpose of typography as enhancing the readability of the written word, one of design’s most humane functions is, in actuality, to help readers avoid reading.” This thinking is quite consistent with the decontructionist philosophical school that she tends to often quote, especially with Jacques Derrida. That is fine and dandy, except that the fact that Ellen is writing something suggests that she hopes that somebody will read what she writes. She is correct about one thing, that this book was not easy of the eyes to read. Her efforts to be different or unconventional made it very tense to get through her book. The book is laden with illustrations and the first impression of the plethora of examples of design that she provides is that they are cute. Subsequent impressions of her examples are less complementary, in that they are a tremendous strain on the reader (user, if you wish) to interpret the message being conveyed. Unfortunately, as she has received many favorable comments on Amazon.com, there will be many budding young graphic designers out there trying to establish their position in the world of graphic design, and are spurred by this book to be bizarre rather than effective in communicating an idea. If one has no ideas or thoughts to communicate, then this book is excellent for you. Allow your imagination to run wild, defy any convention, and never think about whether your message (if you have one) has been sent to the “other user”, i.e., the reader. I can only presume that most “readers” of this book actually never read the book, but only looked at the “pretty” pictures. Her design style has much tension to it. It is crowded, busy, disorganized. The important readable type, such as the announcement of an event, is not immediately obvious, or written quite small and at an obtuse angle, making it a challenge to identify a purpose for the illustration. Deviations from convention rarely are effective at conveying or symbolizing anything, such as when she decides to arbitrarily and occasionally defy the text box of the main text. Perhaps the only value of this book is to suggest that deviations from convention can occasionally improve the efficacy of communication of a message, and for that it received two stars.

The Complete Manual of Typography

August 2nd, 2012

The Complete Manual of Typography, second edition by James Felici ★★★★★

This book was read in the .pdf version on an iPad 3. The quality of the book in .pdf format was excellent, and it worked well for me, the only difficulty being figuring how to get the file to my iPad, as it would not e-mail.

Amazon reviewers have attacked this book for being a bit outdated, and not providing a significant update from the first edition. I have not seen the first version and so cannot make comments on that. The artistic aspects of typography do not seem to change much over time, and so I’m not sure exactly what is being referred to. Felici does provide a rather broad survey of typography, though certainly not a comprehensive discussion of the topic. He engages first in the history of typography, goes on to discuss the nature of hot type, and then the changes that have occurred in the world of cold type. There is much discussion about the nature of typefaces and fonts, with comparison to typewriting. Part II of the book discusses the particulars of how to set type, mostly laboring on how to provide an artistic look to a typeset piece, while elaborating on the conventions foreign and domestic for type. Felici remains mostly program-independent, in that he offers general principles rather than laboring over how to accomplish a task using Quark vs. InDesign vs. anything else out there. The last two chapters were on the use of style sheets (not really typography) and resolution issues for print vs. screen and web presentation.

I appreciated Felici’s focus on the art of typography rather than the mechanical principles of producing a page of type. For the mechanics of typesetting, I’ll read an InDesign or Quark text. It is unfortunate that typography is so seldom viewed as an art, even among those who take pride in their printed works. I can speak of that first-hand. I entered a typography apprenticeship immediately after high school, and obtained by journeyman’s card along the way. With that, I worked by way in various typesetting houses and printshops through college and medical school. Even after becoming a surgical oncologist, I still enjoyed playing with InDesign, reminiscing on the very first edition of Aldus Pagemaker, even though my avocation was elsewhere. My typography days were at the bitter end of the cold type era, and I was trained in the use of linotype and handset type as well as phototypesetters, our shop using an Alphatype machine. This machine was a veritable nightmare, constantly breaking, and rarely accurately providing a smooth baseline of type. Entering type went to a magnetic tape that gave one no clue as to the entry, and mistakes had to be corrected a line at a time, as there was no backspace like on a standard computer. One was so grateful to just get the manuscript in print, that artistic elements were often overlooked. The linotype colleagues were no better in that occasionally a few lines of type were reset to eliminate a river or distracting element, yet artistic elements were more lip-service than actively sought. It is a touch amazing how much more critical one is allowed to be, and how much greater control one has over the type with a program such as InDesign. I lack any sense of nostalgia for the “good ole days”. I still have my two volumes of lessons from the International Typographical Union, a union that no longer exists, and soon few if any people will be alive that have any clue about the operation and maintenance of a linotype machine. The two volumes from the ITU sought to instill an artistic sense into the typesetter, and was mostly effective based on the technology of the time.

The Complete Manual of Typography was a joy to read, written in a very easy style, occasionally repeating things in different chapters, but mostly allowing a cover-to-cover read, after which one will have a fairly decent grasp of contemporary typographical art and style.

Adobe Illustrator CS6 Classroom in a Book

July 25th, 2012

Adobe Illustrator CS6 Classroom in a Book ★

There are no authors given to this book, as it is presented as the Adobe official training workbook from Adobe Systems. Many of the Classroom in a book series are reasonably decent at giving the new user a first glimpse at the use and capabilities of whatever Adobe program is being presented. This book, in contrast, is very poor, though the scarcity of stars is not entirely the fault of the book, since Adobe Illustrator itself is a terribly buggy program that needs more work. For instance, smart guides would only intermittently work for me, with no explanation from the Adobe website as to the nature of the problem, and many others have complained on the website of this bug. This book starts with chapter 0 offering a quick tour of the capabilities of Illustrator. It was the most confusing chapter I’ve ever read, and the suggested one hour to get through the chapter took about 4-5 hours. Most of the chapters would take at least double the suggested needed time. I suppose they timed somebody entirely familiar with the program. Throughout the book, very precise details are offered, though they never build on previous chapters for shortcuts or easy ways to accomplish a task. Many times throughout the book, an important detail was omitted, or perhaps a detail was accidentally skipped 20 steps prior, and no means of correction were possible, save for starting over. The book persuaded me of the horrid inadequacies of the Illustrator program. I remember with sadness how easy it was to use Corel Draw, which is unfortunately no longer available for Mac users. My only hope at this point is to try another Illustrator instruction book, and see if it can make better sense of this crazy program.

Malachi-A Prophet in Times of Despair

July 18th, 2012

Malachi – A Prophet in Times of Despair, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★

I had reviewed another book by Maoz about the book of Jonah, and it was excellent. This book is quite similar. Baruch Maoz offers a distinctly Jewish perspective to his discussions of the text, often of which are quite informative. Maoz covers the basic themes of Malachi, as to how the Jews possess a religiosity, but they have lost their heart for loving God. Malachi offers prudent advice on returning to God, and the promises God gives for faithfulness to Him.  Maoz has a very Reformed form of theology,and this colors his thinking all the way through the book. The essential theme is that the OT is quite relevant for today. It is not made of lesser stuff than the NT. His final statement brings the entire book of Malachi together,

“As I hope you will see, the New Testament teaches the same principles as does the Old. It is not difficult to preach the Gospel front he Old Testament without resorting to spiritualization or any of the interpretational manipulations that are so common in modern Christian pulpits. If we will but allow the Old Testament to speak for itself, it will inexorably lead to the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah”.

I couldn’t say it better.

Guns 101

July 15th, 2012

Guns 101 by David Steier ★★★★

Now that Obama has threatened to take guns away from us, it became time to purchase a few weapons. This book does a wonderful job of addressing multiple issues of gun ownership. Why buy a gun? (Not necessarily to kill people or animals!) What type of gun or guns should one purchase? What is the meaning to all of the sizes of ammo out there? How does one care for a gun, and obtain the necessary skills to use a gun? All of these questions are answered in very simple terms and heavily illustrated in this book. For the person purchasing their first guns, this is a great book to read before one lays down bucks on the counter. The only reservation that I have with the book is the author’s love for .357/.38 size ammo, and his preoccupation with competition shooting, most notably Cowboy Action Shooting.

Photographic Multishot Techniques

July 15th, 2012

Photographic Multishot Techniques, by Juergen Gulbins and Rainier Gulbins ★★★

This book goes through a long list of types of photography that would utilize merged (but not composited) photographs to improve on the original photograph. Such examples include HDR photography, panoramic stitching, extension of the depth of field, and improvement of the resolution of the image. Each of these techniques are discussed in the context of various programs that are best at performing the function described. Thus, unless one had and were to use, for example, PhotoAcute for focus stacking to improve the depth of field of the photo, the book would not be as meaningful. I enjoyed the book all the same, since the Gulbins spent much time discussing the techniques for best obtaining various photographs. As examples, they discussed the use of the focusing rail for extended depth of field, and the techniques and equipment for rotating a camera for panorama shots. Always, they also emphasized the proper camera settings to best snap the shots. I enjoyed the book, and the photographic examples were superb. It also will probably guide me into downloading some of the stand-alone programs mentioned in the book. None of the stand-alone programs are cheap, and Photoshop has improved its act with subroutines for image merging and processing. Thus, I’ll drag my feet, and sort out how well Photoshop CS6 can serve me before rushing off and purchasing other programs. But, I’ve already started to use this book’s advice on photographic technique for HDR and panorama photography.

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography

July 15th, 2012

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography, by Ferrell McCullough ★★★★

Ferrel McCullough is one of the early masters of HDR (high dynamic range) photography, and his mastery of the subject is well displayed in this text. The text is short and easy to read, as well as heavy illustrated. McCullough discusses the art of identifying a scene worth recording for HDR, the equipment and technique necessary to obtain the set of shots that provide the base for the merged photo, and then the techniques for obtaining the finished product. The book was written in 2008, when the highest update on Photoshop was CS3, which has quite mediocre HDR subroutines, and so was not discussed much. Adobe has improved since then. The two main HDR programs discussed were PhotoMatrix and FdrTools, and he noted that he tended to use both of them, since they both provide different outcomes to the photo. McCullough includes at the end of each chapter an array of photographs from other photographers, which was a nice touch. This is a good book for the photographer starting in HDR.

Digital Photographer’s Handbook

July 15th, 2012

Digital Photographer’s Handbook, 4th Edition, by Tom Ang ★★★★

This is a delightful compendium of “how-to” in photography, and the advice is quite sound. Ang discusses equipment that one should use, photographic technique, as well as some photoshop and post-camera methods for improving the shot. The book is filled with many examples of photographic technique, some of the examples of which are rather normal photographs – something that would be found on a personal webpage and not in an art gallery. This gives the book  a more practical touch for the average photographer. There were many of his photos that I simply didn’t like. The beauty of the book is that there are so many examples of his work that one would appreciate the bulk of most of the photography in the book. The book was written in 2008 and thus is a little bit dated, for example, discussions on problems of dynamic range and the use of HDR techniques. There is a 5th edition book just out, which I’m sure brings the reader up to date. In all, this is a nice book of technique and ideas for the intermediate amateur photographer.

Adobe InDesign CS6 Classroom in a Book

June 28th, 2012

Adobe InDesign CS6 Classroom in a Book ★★★★

I show my age when I recall purchasing one of the original Aldus PageMaker programs. It was nice, because it treated type like a typographer would have, rather than an amateur using a word processor would do. Each upgrade seems to get better. InDesign CS6 is now focusing on the ability to publish eBooks and automated .pdf files. Much of the print typography functionality has improved significantly but mostly unnoticeably if one were to simply upgrade from CS4 or CS5 to CS6. Yet, it is easy to tell that Adobe has worked with professional publishers in order to make their life easier. This book offers a very superficial review of those improvements, and the broad spectrum of functions that are contained within InDesign.

Classroom in a Book is designed for the earlier amateur, and goes through steps to familiarize a person to InDesign in a painfully slow fashion, though not so painfully slow to one who has never used the program before. Much of its treatments of subjects is very superficial. While this book contained many more explanations about various functions than its Photoshop counterpart, it still lacked in giving the learner a good idea as to how to get something done. Its technique of walking the reader through various projects does better at informing the reader of InDesign functionality,  than teaching the reader how to really use the program. Learning to use InDesign is best accomplished by simply using the program, and  reading other texts. This book provided great ideas and vision for future publications, and was great as a re-briefer for InDesign after not having used much of the built-in power of the program. Thus, the four stars.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book

June 23rd, 2012

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book ★★★★

This book was used by me as an adjunct to upgrading from CS4 to CS6 and not having used Photoshop to much in the last year. I felt that this would be the quickest way to catch up on the latest and greatest of Photoshop, and indeed, the text is oriented toward giving a VERY brief survey of much that Photoshop has to offer. For the absolute novice, it is a 5-star text, in that it will labor over the minutest details of the way in which the complete CS6 system operates. It’s greatest deficit is that it is almost entirely a mechanical instruction book (“click this, slide that, push this, etc.”). Missing are the explanations as to why you are doing certain things to achieve your end. This book MUST be complimented with any of a number of standard photoshop texts for photographers that tell you where to go once you understand the mechanics of photoshop. There were several chapters which simply were inapplicable to me, since I have the basic photoshop and not the extended version. Discussions of 3-D effects (which I’d prefer to do in Illustrator anyway), editing video (much easier in many other programs like Premier), or editing for the web (please, I’ll use Dreamweaver if I need to write web stuff) betrays the fact that many of the Adobe programs are unnecessarily overlapping/redundant. The book served its purpose with me by re-familiarizing me with Photoshop, and thus the 4 stars. If you are at all familiar with Photoshop, don’t waste your time on this book.

Lightroom 4

June 23rd, 2012

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, by Nat Coalson ★★★★★

I previously read Martin Evening’s book on Lightroom 3, which was also excellent. Now that I’m using Lightroom 4 with the massive new added functions that Adobe put into the program, I felt it worthwhile reading a new text on the topic. Coalson approaches Lightroom similarly to Evening, giving great advice as a working photographer. The book is definitely different from Evening’s text, yet both are quite clear, and well describes the steps for performing any desired function in Lightroom. I found that I learned a lot more about Lightroom by re-reading another text on the program, that will allow the program to be more useful. How many times have you looked at a function or command or area of Lightroom, and wondered why it was there. Coalson offers a fairly comprehensive review of much of what Lightroom can do for you, and what it can’t do. I would recommend either text for the photographer to learn about what the program can do for you. If you are an occasional photographer, then don’t waste your time and stay with iPhoto.

The Idiot

June 17th, 2012

The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. WP as his favorite Dostoevsky work. The story revolves around a sickly, epileptic prince named Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin, but is often simply referred to as “the idiot”. An idiot he is not, but a kindly, reserved fellow. The story has him returning from Switzerland for recovery of his health, when he comes into encounters with multiple females. Ultimately, he becomes romantically engaged with several, though not be actively seeking them out, but rather by becoming an inheritor of a large sum of money. The story has a fascinating ending which I won’t reveal. Like most Dostoevsky novels, you won’t easily predict the ending until you get there. Worthy of reading, I should soon be reviewing the Russian “made for television” version of the book.

 

The Prince

June 17th, 2012


The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli ★★★★

Machiavelli lived in Firenze, Italy and wrote this piece in 1513 as observations of politics as seen in the church and in the state. He spares neither the pope nor the regional princes in his comments, though mostly makes comments on the behaviors of rulers in achieving power and maintaining power. Though the word “machiavellian” has sinister connotations of slyness and craftiness, this did not pertain to Machiavelli’s behavior, but simply what he saw happening in Italy up to the year 1513. Machiavelli proposes nothing, but does note what behaviors have led to stable empires, and what behaviors have caused ruin to the same. The previous blog contains some quotations from the book, giving one a sense of his writing. Perhaps machiavellian behavior has become the norm in successful politics, though it seems as though much of the solid, non-devious advice of the book goes unheeded in today’s politics. The book is a worthy read, and is short enough to be read in 1-2 evenings. I read the book from the Kindle reader on my iPad while on the airplane to Düsseldorf.

Adobe Acrobat X Classroom in a Book

May 21st, 2012

Adobe Acrobat Classroom in a Book, by the Adobe Press Team ★★★★

So you want to learn Adobe Acrobat X. There is the matter of learning about why one would use Adobe Acrobat to create .pdf files, and then the matter of learning about all the functionality of Acrobat. What started as a simple and lame (but expensive) program to create simple flat .pdf files has emerged into .pdfs that can read themselves, play movies, act in a secure fashion to limit access, and provide output for production printing facilities. This book has come under criticism for being a bit simplistic. The intended function of the book was not to provide a comprehensive manual of Acrobat function, but rather to get the reader up to speed with the main functions of Acrobat, and to that it does a superb job. A few of the exercises get a touch tedious, but the book is easy to finish in several nights, leaving the reader a global feel of the possibilities with this program. Because the book forces you to do hands-on actions, you learn much better than just reading a description of all the functions that Acrobat offers.

The Intolerance of Tolerance

May 6th, 2012

The Intolerance of Tolerance, by D.A. Carson ★★★★

It takes no brilliance to figure out what this book is about, and Carson does a masterful job of showing how the new definition of tolerance is truly anything but tolerant.Carson starts by showing that tolerance has changed meaning. The historical meaning of tolerance was to endure, bear, or put up with the differing beliefs of others. The new definition means to accept as equally right or true the differing positions of others. Carson shows how this change has evolved historically, and what it has meant in the destruction of morality, public discourse, and the very fabric of society. Finally, he offers a Christian response in ten points, several including using the new “intolerance” as an opportunity for evangelism, remaining entirely civil in public discourse, and finally, being willing to suffer while trusting God for standing up for the truth. The book is a thought-provoking read, and shows a cultural grasp of what Christians might expect if they wish to engage the world in the public square. I’ve always enjoyed the books of DA Carson that I’ve read, and this text certainly maintains his high standard as a premier Christian author.

Understanding Photography Field Guide

April 15th, 2012

Understanding Photography Field Guide by Bryan Peterson ★★★★★

This is a great little book that I mostly skim-read. Peterson writes well, and covers a plethora of subjects in the small soft bound book. There are several things that make this book a good read. First, the book is loaded with little gems to make your photography easier and better. It is not a comprehensive manual on how to take special types of shots, but simply offers the best advice for just about any circumstance, whether it be macro photography, night photography, people pictures, etc., etc. The second thing I really appreciated with the book is how Peterson would often show a very bland shot, and then show the same shot taken with a few tweaks that turn the scene into a phenomenal photograph. He tells you exactly what he does, giving all the camera setting information for you to know the precise conditions of the photo. It is a fun read, not the best book for a photography novice, but a very helpful read for a middle of the road photographer.

 

The Emperor of All Maladies

April 2nd, 2012

The Emperor of All Maladies, A biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee ★★★★★

After having been in the cancer field for over 25 years, this book still was able to provide insights and stories in the “war” against cancer that I was quite unaware of. Dr. Mukherjee starts with a review of the most primitive and ancient treatments for cancer, which typically were to do nothing, or even worse, to attempt to do something. He does a masterful job of describing how the nature of cancer slowly has come to be understood over time. Mukherjee elaborates on the earliest attempts at surgery, followed by attempts with radiation and then chemotherapy for cancer. Occasional serendipitous successes often led to either skepticism or unbridled optimism regarding possible cancer cures. Mukherjee paints a masterful picture of interacting actors in the scene, including physicians attempting against the advice of colleagues in the first chemotherapy trials, colleagues outright rejecting too aggressive of researchers, drug companies hesitant to engage in the development of expensive new drugs, and public opinion spinners all interacting to generate the interest and then funds to permit cancer research to occur. Mukherjee, being a medical oncologist, definitely provides a serious bias towards the defeat of cancer through finding just the right chemicals, receptor blockers, and pathway interrupters. Though he writes with a conservative tone, one is still left with the idea that all we need is a short amount of time and another godzillion dollars and cancer will be in the past tense for everybody. I heard that statement at a major medical meeting from the head of the NCI in 2008, alleging that with the current progress, we would not see a cancer death after the year 2012–that leaves 9 months for them to find a cure.

I appreciate how Mukherjee refrains from being totally inclusive and chasing every possible storyline, but selects out the main channels, such as the driving forces for the development of the NCI and American Cancer Society, while omitting the development of such groups as the Susan Komen breast cancer story. He’s honest in noting that for the most part, we still remain in the primitive stages of finding the solution to cancer. His stories orient around the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and that is understandable. He beautifully paints a personal face to oncologic care through his stories of patients, both under his care and other physicians. This book can be understood by both physicians and lay alike, and a most worthy read.

Life Together

March 25th, 2012

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer  ★★★

 Bonhoeffer wrote this book on returning to a Germany that was then contolled by Hitler. Through his experiences in the community at Finkenwalde in 1938, he writes of the nature of Christians living together. He describes a community that is focused on reading the Scriotures together, and prayer. He discusses the role of loving each other, and confessing sin with each other. He develops the necessity of Christians living in community. Though he doesn’t specifically breach the issue of “church”, it seems to be implied in all that he says, as well as what you see in Bonhoeffer’s life.

The House of the Dead

March 25th, 2012

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★

This book was written soon after Dostoevsky finished a three year term in a Siberian prison for his alleged revolutionary activities. The story is written from the viewpoint of a nobleman for whom you are never told his crime, and owes the state 10 years of hard labor. Much of the book is oriented around the first few weeks in the prison, the description of the prison hospital, the celebration of Christmas, and various prisoner stories describing events in prison or the crime that bought their prison sentence. It is a dark read, though with jocular moments, and a prelude to the even darker writings of prison life by Alexander Solzhenitsin. The book does end well, with a brief description of the release of the story-teller from prison, though that was preceded by the tale of an attempted escape. Dostoevsky excels in his ability to do  character descriptions.

Again, this Mobile Reference version is filled with multiple typographical errors from the scanning of the originals. Usually, one may figure out the proper intended word, but sometimes it was not possible. I would discourage anybody from purchasing this set. It might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied

March 18th, 2012

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray ★★★★★

The is a wonderful little book written on the doctrine of redemption. In the first section on redemption accomplished, John Murray covers the act of God redeeming us, explaining why Christ needed to die, the nature of what it accomplished, and for whom Christ died. The second section of redemption applied covers the items in the “ordo salutis”, including calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ, and glorification. John Murray gives brief answers to false teachings, but mostly sticks with expounding on the doctrines in their positive aspects. It is not a simple read in that every sentence is loaded, but it is a book that anybody could pick up and understand. It’s one of the better summaries of the doctrines of grace that I have encountered. Murray is deeply Reformed in his thinking, and these doctrines could be summarized as the core of Reformed thinking.

 

The Gambler

March 18th, 2012

The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This is one of Dostoevsky’s shorter novels, and follows a young student from Russia tutoring children of a Russian General while living in a small gambling town in Germany. The student inadvertently gets the gambling bug when asked to make bets at the local casino by a lady friend of his. This leads to a disasterous episode in the students’ life, characterized by moments of extreme wealth and extreme poverty leading to a short episode in prison. The extreme wealth dissipates quickly through either inability to control the irresistable gambling urge, or by squandering the wealth rapidly on friends and careless living. Perhaps Dostoevsky was writing this partially autobiographically, since he also had a period of compulsive gambling, which he managed to kick. The book generally has a dark, somber tone to it, though a middle section where rich grandmamma comes to visit and suddenly gets caught in the gambling craze offers a comic interlude.
I read this book on Kindle. I have seen the opera The Gambler (Der Spieler) by Prokofiev in the distant past, and so will have to dig the disc out of the memory vaults and watch it again. The book can easily be read in several nights, and doesn’t have periods of lengthy dialogue or monologue that are typical of the longer Dostoevsky novels. This edition of the works of Dostoevsky is VERY poorly edited, with numerous spelling mistakes. They obviously quick scanned a text, and offered no proof-reading. You get what you pay for. The edition itself should be only 1 star.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

March 13th, 2012

Enjoy Every Sandwich; Living each day as if it were your last, by Lee Lipsenthal, MD ★

I read books or watch movies given to me by friends with great reluctance. Unless I’ve known you a long time, I typically find that the differences in world-view or likes tend to not mesh. This is an example of a book given to me by a friend who felt that it was most significant in his life. He felt this to be a great gift as well as source for meaningful conversation the next time we meet. It was a great gift, though I truly found that I could not connect with the book. Here is why.

Enjoy Every Sandwich is the autobiography of Dr. Lipsenthal, focusing mostly on the last two years of his life, when, at age 51, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, went through typical cancer treatment with the addition of some New-age medicine, only to die slightly more than two years later. Lipsenthal candidly expresses his thoughts from the last two years of life, and his desire to enjoy life to its fullest is appreciated.

Where Lipsenthal fails is in his ability to understand fully the nature of his experience. He describes his “battle” against cancer as his war on cancer, and his dying as simply fulfilling the Kübler-Ross stages of dying. The war metaphor for cancer I find especially troubling. We never speak of the war on flu, or appendicitis, or diabetes, or dental caries, and when the war metaphor is used, such as in political campaigns or the war on drugs, it is usually by a government entity trying to dupe the public into cooperating with their silly nonsense of creating a straw enemy that trillions of dollars could be wasted in order to “fight”. It’s as though Adolph Hitler and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus were comparable entities. Regarding the Kübler-Ross stages, that is total nonsense. The emotions that a person experiences when dying are multiple and far more expansive that Kübler-Ross describes, and the variability in the order of progression (stages) is as multiple as the Betz cells in her brain, though they might be few.

What I found even more disturbing with this book is the authors’ absolute obsession with himself. He is one of the most self-absorbed narcissists that I have ever read. There is no dimensionality in his life, and the cancer doesn’t make him progress as a person. Such moments as when he threatens to leave his wife if she didn’t start connecting with his alternative medicine – New age medicine thinking was typical of his overwhelming self-importance. All that really mattered was himself. Lipsenthal doesn’t end life with notions of higher aspirations, or the feeling that the impact of his life gave others a fuller meaning, other than dragging his family and friends into the inexorable hell-hole spiral where he was headed. Following Buddhist thinking, he could give no meaning to his pain and suffering, and thus had to form a “universe” in which the pain he was experiencing was not actually real or of value. Then I think about the person Lipsenthal, he is exactly the person I would avoid, and choose not to befriend. His inspiration comes from rock music, sports, and himself. His world had no meaning and had no dimension outside of himself.

Yet, it is his advice on health care alternatives which are the most disturbing to me. Lipsenthal generates an amalgam of native American spiritism, Buddhism and spiritism, new-Age thought, mysticism, and Wiccan thought into a form of “spirituality”. True, Christian religion was mentioned, but his thoughts on Jesus and advice from scripture were most in line with what the Scripture uses to describe Satan and his lies. Indeed, Lipsenthals paranormal mystical experiences prove only that there is something out there beyond what science itself can discover. It fails to show that there are contesting “spirits” in this spiritual world, good and evil, and that evil is a true oncologic entity, not just something that the Buddhist can wish away into non-existence. Lipsenthal is most worried about happiness, which only makes sense if you conclude that there is no such thing as truth, true meaning, redemption, or morality. His second to last chapter is on love describes a love that is alien to my thought on true self-sacrificial love, as well-described in I Corinthians 13. His love is a narcissistic love, a love for self, and the warm fuzzy feeling that perhaps others also love him, and that he loves them in return.

I remain at a total loss as to how mankind can give up the eternal truths of the Holy Scriptures, and buy the rubbish of the new spirituality. In a sense it is no wonder, because Scriptures remove your focus from yourself and places it on God alone. Christ makes impossible demands on you, yet gives you the strength to live right, and forgiveness through his death (substitutionary atonement) to allow the triune God to treat you as though you did nothing wrong in His eyes. All that you must do is believe in Him. So simple. So true. But, it is so contrary to our very human nature that wishes to do the work for our personal salvation, to merit God, to become intrinsically good, to be a “self-made” person, and to honor ones self as god. For the Christian, our duty is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We give Him glory in our health and also in our sickness, as we trust Him as an all-loving God, the embodiment and ontological definition of true love. Though He has ordained all that comes to pass, we find meaning in our lives by orienting our lives, and the lives of those we come into contact with, in a worshipful relationship with our creator God. Sickness and death are a great evil, but God uses the evil that comes upon us in a meaningful way. Life in its totality becomes a joyous experience  as we live it coram deo. I  offer only one alternative author, C.S. Lewis, in his two books A Grief Observed and Surprised by Joy, autobiographical accounts that give an alternative view of the world, our existence in it, and suffering. As a cancer doctor, I can give countless examples of seeing both miserable deaths and meaningful deaths. Of the meaningful deaths, the death of a Christian holding fast remains the most overwhelming. Lipsenthal has offered a cheap imitation to the truly significant life. I pray that readers would find the shallowness of his thinking and discover the true riches of life and death as found in Christ alone.

Dostoevsky biography

March 9th, 2012

Fyodor Dostoevsky, by Peter Leithart ★★★

Fyodor Dostoevsky was read on Kindle. This book is a biography written as a fictional novel. Peter Leithart desired to hold relative historical accuracy, and did this by including numerous references to particular  Dostoevsky quotes. The style of historical presentation is through a fictitious dialogue, and thus one wasn’t sure exactly what was fiction and what was truth about Dostoevsky may have actually said and did. It is not a bad way to present a complex historical character, yet one was always left wondering where Leithart was actually quoting Dostoevsky, and where he was taking artistic license. This book works best if one is quite familiar with the life and writings of Dostoevsky. Since I have just started reading his works (Crime and Punishment, and Brothers Karamazov so far), I can grasp stories taken from those novels, but left clueless during the book dialogues that reflect other works. Leithart leaves Dostoevsky as a most fascinating, and in ways most admirable character in spite of his numerous flaws. This book is best read after the reader has gained moderate familiarity with the works of Dostoevsky. The dialogues will explain the thinking and philosophy of Dostoevsky, and this is most interesting, because that is how Dostoevsky presents concepts in his novels–through the dialogue of different characters.

The God of Miracles

March 8th, 2012

The God of Miracles, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

The subtitle to this book is “An exegetical examination of God’s action in the world. Collins, in this book, attempts to form a Biblical basis for God’s interaction with the world, and to describe the nature of possible interactions with the world. To accomplish this end, Collins presents the three leading camps of thought that describe the nature of God’s ongoing interactions with his creation. They are providentialism, supernaturalism, and occasionalism. Collins begins by describing what we would consider to be unorthodox views of Gods interaction with the world, such as with Deism, which simply put, states that God puts the world into motion and then leaves it alone. Thus, miracles and supernatural interactions with the world do not and cannot exist, according to the Deist. To summarize the three “orthodox” stances, providentialism holds God to have created the world with such intricacy that unusual events are built into the creation and no event violates the natural laws that God built into the world; supernaturalism believes that God created the world with intrinsic laws that govern its normal behavior, yet God interacts with the system and is not bound by the normal laws that govern the system; occasionalism holds that there are no automatic laws that govern the behavior of the universe, but that God is active at every moment in its operation, so that unusual occurrences (miracles) are simply a part of the normal behavior of God in the universe.

The remainder of the book provides arguments for and against each position. First, Collins defines terms such as nature, miracle, and causation. Then, he explores Scripture to see where instances in support of each of these three stances might occur. Collins summarizes with a leading toward supernaturalism. The last chapter of this book discusses primarily the issue of intelligent design and how it fits into Christian thinking about the creation and sustenance of the world.

This book was written before “Science & Faith” but is supposed to be an academic attempt as the same subject matter as Science & Faith. I actually found this book easier to read, and provided better pause for reflection than the Science & Faith text. Both texts are complementary with minimal duplication in discussion, and thus both books are strongly recommended by me. I realize that Collins has come under attack from both the liberals and the 7-day creationists for his stances. I find Collins 100% committed to Scripture, and no way diverting away from proper exegesis of the text. He provides an excellent defense against those who truly deviate from a strong respect for the Scripture as God-breath words, an example being the theistic evolutionists. I would hope the reader maintains a critical but unbiased mind in reading his texts.

God and Time – Four Views

February 26th, 2012

God and Time, Edited by Gregory Ganssle, with input from Paul Helm, Alan Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Woltersdorff ★★★★

This book was a most fascinating read, though there were a few parts where the argument was not properly followed. Ganssle had assembled a very capable set of Christian scholars, all of them notably orthodox, yet all taking different views on the nature of time, and God’s relation to time. They vary from Helm claiming that God is entirely outside of time, to Woltersdorff, who asserts that God is a creature of time, with Padgett and Craig taking middle views, claiming that God in various ways inserted himself in time, or became a creature of time only during the creation episode, and otherwise is a timeless being. There are two main camps of thought regarding time. The A-series camp claims that time is “tensed”, or process theory of time, and God participates in time, though possibly not in the same manner in which we experience time. The B-series camp claims that time lacks true tenses, or, is “tenseless”, or static, and that God exists entirely outside of time. The B-series adherent would claim that for God, all moments in time in creation exist equally, thus, a million years ago is as real and “present” to God as “now” and as a million years from now. Arguments from each of the discussants point out the problems and tensions that occur with each view. I tend toward the most traditional formulation, as propounded by Paul Helm. I found it fascinating that the two most Reformed scholars (Helm and Woltersdorff) had the most opposite views – I would have thought otherwise.

I find that the greatest challenge is to comprehend the possibility of anything existing outside of space and time. As Emmanuel Kant correctly identified, it is impossible for the constructs of our mind to think outside of space and time. A similar puzzle in understanding God is to try to understand the nature of the trinity. Any explanation of the trinity falls short. Time is a concept with similar problems. Did God create time? Is time intrinsically tied to our concept of space? How can a God that is timeless interact with people that know nothing but existence in time? How do thought processes occur outside of time? Or, does God think? Does he have emotion? What exactly do we really mean by the impassibility of God? If God is the fullness of emotion, how does emotion happen in a timeless environment? How did the timeless being interact in time? How could the incarnation occur if God is timeless? Does a “piece” of Him enter time? Why would a God beyond time care for such insignificant “timed” creatures? Are you really forced to adhere to the concept that creation has no beginning or end if God is timeless and “events” thus do not occur with him?  Contrary, if God himself is characteristically in time, how does he know the future, and all things? Does time then become a “being” or entity that even God is subject to? I don’t think so. But, such questions are beyond comprehension and explanation to me, similar to trying to understand the trinity. After reading this book, I will leave the concept of time and space to remain an inexplainable mystery, not worth philosophizing over. I am left in ultimate awe, and will spend eternity in amazement over the goodness of God, the “other” beyond time and space who cared for us miserable sinners. Soli Deo Gloria.

 

A Prophet on the Run

February 22nd, 2012

A Prophet ont he Run: A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Jonah, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★★

Rev. Maoz is a Reformed pastor in Israel, growing up in USA but moving to Israel fairly early in life. This book is a set of sermons that he gave to his congregation in Israel and later translated from Hebrew into English.

I rarely ever read devotionals. Streams in the Desert, Our Daily Bread, and others are contentless pep-talks that get me nowhere. This book is totally different. Maoz does not labor over speculations or technical details, but simply expounds on the word before him. He doesn’t explain the chiastic structure of the book or delve into the factual basis of the whale but simply assumes it to be true. He doesn’t speculate on the change of appearance of Jonah while living inside a whale and how that might have affected the Ninevite audience. Moaz does spend much time at simply looking at the text and elaborating on what is speaking in the book of Jonah. Though I’ve had pastors preach on Jonah, I’ve never had them find the goldmines of truth in Jonah as Maoz is able to do. Maoz is able to show how Jonah closely matches our own personal lives of trying to give God instruction, and define who he should be merciful to. He shows the overwhelming graciousness of God, with both Jonah and Ninevites, in that neither of them desired God’s will, yet both in God’s sovereign grace were drawn to him.

After each chapter, Maoz includes a prayer, summary of the chapter, and then questions for reflection on the material just read. This short book shows how one can take an academic approach to the Scriptures, and yet glean a massive harvest of personal instruction for our daily lives. It is a pity that there are so few expositors of Maoz’s ability. I will soon be working on his book about Malachi, and hope that he translates many of his other sermons on books of Scripture.

The Brothers Karamazov

February 20th, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Translated b y Andrew McAndrews ★★★★★

This book was read on the Kindle, downloaded from Amazon.com. The Brothers Karamazov is the tale of three brothers and their eccentric father, living in a small town in Russia. Each of the three brothers turned out to be somewhat different from the others, and the first 1/3 of the book is a character development of each of the brothers in turn as well as the father. The second third of the book details events which lead up to the murder of the father, and the dilemma of deciding who did it. The final third is a detail of the courtroom drama and conviction of one of the brothers. The book has many long sections of prolonged narrative and tends to move very slowly, yet constantly manages to keep you on the edge of your chair. Dostoyevsky is a true master of suspense and development of the characters in his books. He spends much time describing the smallest, insignificant details, many of which become important much later in the novel. It’s a dark novel, and seems to be somewhat autobiographical. Dostoyevsky does not spare describing the human condition. The novel itself receives 5 stars.

The Kindle edition receives only 1 star. Oddly, the bargain basement Kindle version of this novel (which I have in the Complete Works of Dostoyevsky on Kindle) is better indexed than this version was. The individual sections (books) were indexed, but not the 10-14 chapters in each section. Kindle has the tendency of occasionally jump randomly to another portion of the book, and returning to where you were reading can be a challenge. Oddly, Kindle does not have a “reset the synch” function for the farthest page read, and so to re-synch will often put you in the last pages of the book, rather than where you were last reading. I’m not entirely convinced that the Kindle is ideal for book reading, save for when traveling.

I will now be reading “The Gambler” and “The Idiot”, after which I’ll retreat to the more somber works of Solzhenitsyn, “In the First Circle” and “The Gulag Archipelago” as well as Shirers’ “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. This is my novel reading schedule for the next several months. You’ll have to wait for reviews for the  more serious reading that I do. I welcome reading recommendations.

Science and Faith

January 26th, 2012

Science and Faith, by C. John Collins ★★★★★

This book must not be confused with the book “The Language of Science and Faith” by Francis S. Collins, a book that would not even be worthy of one star even though written by a highly “eminent” scientist. Jack Collins here produces a lay language masterpiece, originally intended to help homeschool parents discuss issues of science, creation, geology, evolutionary biology, the social sciences, the question of miracles, etc., from a biblical Christian perspective. Jack is completely effective, while not betraying the faith as Francis S.C. has done. This book supplements other books by Jack Collins, including “The God of Miracles” which is supposedly a more technical version of this text, as well as texts that I have previously reviewed on this site. Jack Collins has a masters in electrical engineering from MIT, as well as numerous other degrees, and now teaches Hebrew at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I happen to know him on an acquaintance basis.

Collins tackles a formidable enterprise in his endeavor to show that the Christian faith and much of what we learn as science are not in opposition with each other. The first two chapters of the book are a basic philosophical discussion of the intention of the book. Collins then undertakes to discuss the creation narratives with a scientific perspective, especially addressing his preference for viewing the days of creation as days in God’s time, not ours. He has a chapter discussing the problem of man’s fallenness in observing the world. He discusses the issues of God’s providence and miracles in the face of the post-Hume worldview of the impossibility of miracles. He even includes a chapter on environmentalism and how Christians should view the world. Subsequent chapters deal with the age of the earth (he is in the “old-earth” camp), evolution and the development of animals. Two chapters are devoted to the defense of intelligent design. He concludes with thoughts on the social sciences. Finally, the book is ended with a discussion of the culture wars and our approach to the sciences. Though the entire book was excellent, the last two chapters were the best, and it is worth sticking with Collins to the end of the book. He especially notes how Christians have been in bitter attack against each other over minor differences in their view of the entire creation scenario.  About the only thing I wished he would have discussed would have been flood theories, the tower of Babel incident (especially since Collins is a philologist), and some of the other Biblical miracles that often come under attack by the scientific community (eg., Jonah surviving being eaten by a big fish). This book is one of the must-reads for anybody strongly engaged in the sciences to help form a Christian basis for their scientific thinking.

Historical Theology

January 18th, 2012

Historical Theology, by Gregg Allison ★★★

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text is deficit of any historical context. This is a serious deficit to an otherwise excellent systematic theology textbook, and Allison attempts to provide in this text what Grudem left out. Each chapter is arranged topically following the chapters in Grudem. This creates a textbook of historical theology that has strengths but also serious weaknesses. Oftentimes, a theological discussion demands the environment of multiple topics, such as the Christological controversies of the 2-4th centuries which cannot be discussed void of the trinitarian controversies. This leaves  a text that is only half complete. Allison’s text would not be good for a neophyte in historical theology, as he would loose the entire nature of many controversies. For this reason, JND Kelly’s text for early church theological developments, or  Schaff’s History do a far better job of giving the reader a flavor as to the content of  the historical debates. Allison’s text would work better if designed as an advanced text, but this would mean a very large section for each of the topics covered, accompanied by a large amount of repetition. Many areas are woefully incomplete, such as a very poor discussion of subordinationism, the iconoclastic controversy, and the rise of covenant theology, just to name a few. The text has strengths in that it is easily readable, and could act as a jumping off point for further reading. As a primary historical theology text, others do better when they stick to a chronological discussion rather than a topical agenda.

 

Crime and Punishment

January 12th, 2012

 

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★★

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve actually sat down to read a novel, and I’m not exactly sure why I chose Dostoevsky or this book, but I’m grateful that I did. This book was read on the Kindle. It is the story of a student-intellectual self-driven to poverty, and then committing a double murder. Most of the book engages in his thoughts and actions in the weeks after the incident until he finally breaks down to turn himself in. The book moves quite slowly most the time, with the necessity of reading through quite lengthy dialogues and monologues. Yet, there is a sublime virtue in this book that truly makes it a great novel. Dostoevsky is a complete master of the art of describing pathos. One reads in a cold sweat. One feels guilty even though not the criminal. The reader experiences the anger, depression, the dilutions, the decisional uncertainty of the characters. In most novels, you are a fly on the wall, watching the scene. In Dostoevsky, you are the character, you are in the brain of the character speaking.

Dostoevsky had an interesting upbringing, being born in Moscow in 1821, and dying in 1881. His parents died (perhaps his father was murdered) when he was young, and he scraped for himself. He almost was executed as a political criminal, spent 4 years in a prison camp in Siberia where he became a devout Christian, and spent the rest of his life writing novels in the realist mode, describing the true Russia of the time. Dostoevsky artfully brings up topics of the basis for morality, the existence of God, and the Christian faith. The point of sanity in the sea of insanity through this novel is the few characters with a Christian faith, such as Sonya. Raskolnikov’s sanity exists only in the last paragraphs of the book as he inquires of the Christian faith. The book ends as though there would be sequel.

I’ll be reading much more Dostoevsky in the months ahead. I’m now working on The Brothers Karazamov and will then attack others, so sit tight.

Born Again

December 28th, 2011

Born Again, by Charles Colson ★★★

Here is a book that I’ve suggested others read, yet have not (until now) read the book. It is the second book which I read on a Kindle.

This book is a truncated autobiography of Chuck Colson, known of Watergate fame. It details his rise to power within the Republican organization through low-handed politicking. Eventually, he was chosen to be one of the special consuls for Richard Nixon. He served through Nixon’s first term, and then intended to go back to his law practice when the Watergate scandal hit the fans across the country. During the time between Nixon’s second term and the Watergate scandal, pressure on Colson eventually led him to seek counsel from a friend when he became a Christian. Colson eventually was convicted, and served 7 months in federal prison, before getting released to then focus on prison ministries.

There are many aspects of this book that can be addressed. Certainly, Colson offers his own running commentary on his view of Nixon, Watergate and crisis that occurred. Much of the book is Colson coming to know himself, and realizing that he had a tendency to take control of matters. His fall from (political) grace forced a rethink of his own political arrogance. In this regard, Colson was truly moving. Colson’s change of heart to truly desire God’s will is none other than miraculous, and a testimony that we all must take to heart.

Colson always professed innocence in the Watergate events. I tend to find his testimony as believable. Apparently, he had no clue as to what happened. Colson ended up being the first person to plead guilty, which he did because he felt he did obstruct matters of investigation of the Watergate event, done mostly to protect the president. Oddly, Daniel Ellsberg, who was giving away top secret state information got off scott free.

It is a little bothersome that by the end of the book, Colson ends up as a pentecostal. I certainly hope his thinking has matured a bit since his release from prison. He also tended toward social do-goodism, defending prisoners against an unjust prison system. Sadly, this has two sides, since too often punishment in prison is not commensurate with the crime committed. Colson has a tendency to focus on wrongful imprisonment, when typical imprisonment for many is only too kind. Colson does make a good argument against the explosion of the prison system in our country, yet offers too few of suggestions as to how to really fix that.

Being a lawyer, Colson goes way too soft on addressing the problem of law and justice in our country. He tends to suggest that there are a few bad lawyers that ruin the soup. In reality, the entire legal system is rotten to the core, and Colson simply won’t admit it. His own conviction was based on the most eminent lawyers in the land, who did NOT make the judgment against Colson based on either evidence or due process of law, but rather out of pressure from a small but very vocal public sentiment. Unfortunately, with the  loss of constitutionalism in our court system, we can only expect this to get worse with time.

I agree with Colson in that the prison system is way overused, and tends to serve contrary to its mission, which is to reform the inmates. Supposing that Colson was truly guilty of his crimes, the best punishment would have been 39 lashings, total disbarment, and obligatory public service of 7 years duration at minimum wage and no diminishment of sentence based on good behavior, though extension of sentence based on bad behavior could be enforced.

Colson was kind on the news media. The Watergate scandal was essentially a creation of the news media. Ellsberg should have been behind bars and is not, thanks to the liberal press. It is no wonder that the large news services are dying. I’ll shed no tears for CNN or MSNBC. Colson was kind on liberals. He tended to feel that anybody that called themselves brother were acceptable. Yet, content of belief does matter. I hope Colson has learned this since his conversion. Those belief structures will order our thinking as well as behavior. For Colson to find vehement enemies that suddenly become best friends once discovered that they are Christians is a terrible witness of the “worst enemy-best friend” people, regardless of how “spiritual” they conducted themselves.

So, I truly enjoyed reading the book, but gave the book only three stars for lacking the depth it could have had. Colson is a delightful writer, but I do not intend to read any more of his books, which I understand are quite a few at this time. I am most delighted at his conversion to the Christian faith, and see in Colson’s story a common tale that reflects God calling us to Him, and NOT us accepting Him. I wish that Colson could have seen that in his conversion. I’m glad that God saves us in spite of ourselves, and Colson stands as a most visible example of this truth among every one of us that call ourselves Christian.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

December 22nd, 2011

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe and ???? ★★★

This is the first book that I have read in electronic format, on a Kindle. I have mixed feelings about the Kindle, and then comments on the book itself.

The Kindle is a great idea. I received the Kindle Touch about a month ago. I really didn’t wish for a microscopic keyboard and heard that there were problems with the color edition of Kindle, so opted for the Touch. There are problems with it. 1. The touch mechanism doesn’t always work consistently 2. if you accidentally bump the screen or try to clean off the screen to read it better, it will react. 3. since you always have to touch the screen to read, such as with changing pages, the screen is always being made dirty again. 4. After reading Foxe, the Kindle has shown a drastic reduction in speed, and multiple crashes, almost like it got a virus.  5. There is no mechanism for reading in dark circumstances, as you need an external light to see the screen.  6. Maneuvering through a book that you are reading can be a challenge, especially if the table of contents is not well constructed. They don’t have a reverse function like surfers have, so that you can’t instantly go back to where you came from.  The advantages of the Kindle are 1. It’s a great idea, 2. when it works, it has great functionality, like keeping track of where you are in a book across all systems. My solution to the Kindle dilemma is to use Kindle on an Apple apparatus. I am just waiting for iPad3 to come out.

Now, for Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I didn’t realize until I contacted my book resource David Davis that the original Foxe is about 7000 pages, and anything we read is a serious abridgment of that text. In addition, since Foxe died in 1587, any details after that are additions to his book. Thus, the hardcopy edition of Foxe’s Book and the Kindle edition do not resemble each other at all in their organization. Strangely, Wikipedia, and most Google internet sources don’t clue you in to this. The Kindle edition has multiple stories up to about 1830, many of which are quite rambling. At the end are very brief biographies of the main reformers, which are too brief to be of any value. The greatest value of Foxe’s Book is in his discussions of the martyrdoms around the time of bloody Mary. There is prolific language against the Papists and popery, all of which should NOT be forgotten by the present day church. The Romish church has not changed significantly since the 16th century, and we shouldn’t forget that. The Pope and his minions have not made a kinder gentler church that has learned its lessons. It is a superb defense of the notion of protestantism.

The book and its “editions” has left out much, including Savaranola, the Scottish martyrs, and persecution of the church by protestants on protestants. The revisions include lengthy details of the Quaker movement, which was unnecessary, and lengthy details of a person in Lebanon who was under pressure to conform by the Marionite church. The quality of the additions to John Foxe are low, and should have been left out. So, read the book, but not the Kindle edition.

 

Come Let Us Reason Together

December 6th, 2011

Come Let Us Reason Together, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★★

I had met Baruch Maoz at church a number of years ago, and found him to be quite thought provoking regarding the nature of the Messianic Jewish movements. Maoz is Jewish, grew up in Israel, and now is retired, though served many years as a pastor and evangelist to a Jewish Christian church in Israel. I decided to read this book after noting how some Christians are quite enamored with things Jewish, many of whom incorporate Jewish traditions into a Christian worship service, and speak Hebrew phrases in an attempt to have a Jewish flavor to the worship. Maoz notes that there is a wide range of Messianic Jews, many of whom are actually Gentiles, to some who would not even call themselves Christians, to a few that would disavow the doctrines of the trinity.  Maoz notes several things.

1. Messianic Jewish movements often have the wrong focus, being more concerned about Jewish tradition than on the Lord Jesus himself.

2. Jewish tradition, especially in Gentile hands, is often seriously confused, misplaced, poorly performed, and oftentimes insulting to real Jews, of whom this movement is attempting to reach.

3. Rabbinic Judaism is to be adamantly repudiated, since it places focus on a works righteousness, and is definitely not Biblical.

4. Well intentioned Messianic Jews often do more harm than good by forcing a Jew-Gentile split, yet failing to adequately reach Jews. As evidence, it is noted that most Jews that came to Christian faith did it outside of Messianic movements.

While reading this book, there were many times when I wished to give it only 3 stars. It is very poorly edited, and often one will find incomplete sentences. The content and arguments in this book are superb, Maoz is highly competent, reformed, and exceptionally knowledgeable in matters of Christian faith and Judaism. This is a book that many should read and take to heart. Maoz skillfully focuses the attention away from traditional Jewish cultural practices, to focus on the Bible alone to guide worship and Christian practice.

 

Suicide of a Superpower

November 3rd, 2011

Suicide of a Superpower, by Patrick Buchanan ★★★★★

The prophet of doom and gloom waxes eloquent as he describes the many variables that will eventually lead to the downfall of America. Mr. Buchanan takes a very long and hard look at the many factors that have changed in society from the 1950’s when the USA was at its pinnacle of power to today, when even the smallest nations may do as they please contrary to the commands or wishes of the United States. In the course of the book, he has chapters that 1. first paint a picture of what’s going on, 2. describes our loss of faith in God and the break-up of our churches, 3. focuses in on crises within Roman Catholicism that is weakening their stand in the US, 4. the loss of traditional white values and cultures and replacement by a nation of minorities, each with their own subcultures, 5. the international failure of the West and Japan/China to have children leading to the poorest nations and Muslim nations to ascend, 6. details of how the quest for “equality” has been so muddled that its only result is an overall loss of freedom, 7. how diversity as an ideology is confused thinking and is absolutely contrary to unity, and how this so-called quest for diversity has destroyed much of American cultural infrastructure, 8. internationally how each autonomous group now desires autonomy and nationhood, causing massive destruction of many of the nation-states of the world, 9. more details on the loss of white America, but in particular, Buchanan focuses on how the Republican party has been painted as the “white” party, even though the Democratic party has been the most racist of the two parties, 10. a focus on foreign policy and how it’s failed us in the last 50 years, with an emphasis on our policy failure with NATO and the former Soviet Union and our need to get out of acting as the world’s defender. The last chapter is spent with Buchanan suggesting what we could do to restore hope to our nation. Buchanan spends much time 1. discussing the issues of import tariffs, of which he makes an excellent point that it is vital to balance our trade status with what our nations do to us, 2. elaborating how the illegal immigrant issue has eaten the heart out of America, though illegal immigrants tend toward a more conservative base than the liberal think-tank that fuels national policy, 3. hinting at how judicial activism in the supreme court has destroyed our true sense of freedom. There are only a few points that I would emphasize differently from Buchanan. Buchanan realizes the importance of national faith in the Christian God, yet fails to say that precisely, discussing instead our loss of community values and church-going. The Scriptures, in discussing the reason for the fall of Israel and Judah, have a stronger focus on the loss of personal morality and loss of orthodoxy among the religious elite. Buchanan notes that the Catholic church rose to prominence in the early 20th century, and then took a downward course in the 1960’s, blaming much of that downward course on the decisions of Vatican II. On this, I would disagree completely with Pat, since the American loss of faith started (as pointed out well by Francis Schaeffer) at the beginning of the twentieth century. The rise of Roman Catholicism in the 20’s to 50’s  represents more a loss of faith and placation of the conscience by providing an easy religiosity, rather than a shift back to Rome for more traditional values. For the most part, Patrick Buchanan gets most everything correct, and this is a book absolutely worth reading to understand what is happening and what will happen to our nation and the world at large.

 

Review—Two Bicycle Repair Books

October 23rd, 2011

The Blue Book (Park Manual) on bicycle repair is considered the standard for bicycle repair. Yet, there are other books out there, since the Park Manual seems to be fairly short, and sometimes confusing or incomplete. The two books reviewed below are alternatives. They offer different styles in their approach to bicycle repair.

Bicycle Repair, by Rob Van Der Plas ★★★★★

This book, written by a bicycle aficionado in San Francisco, is in a very easy to read, casual style, with multiple illustrations. It is the best book in terms of illustrations of any of the cycle repair books I’ve laid my hands on. In some areas it is slightly deficit, such as in not encouraging the use of torque wrenches whenever possible or when advised by manufacturers. It also is not as comprehensive on the different brands of cycle components out there. There are chapters on items such as the repair of internal gear systems and coaster brakes. The clarity and methodical nature of the repair instructions earns it a 5-star rating. This is a worthwhile book to have in one’s cycle repair shop.

Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, by Lennard Zinn ★★★★★

This book earns 5 stars but for a different reason than van der Plas’s book. The illustrations are hand-drawn rather than photographed, yet very well drawn. The book is much thicker and more comprehensive. Zinn is a bicycle builder in Colorado, as well as an editor for VeloNews. Using those skills, he holds a repair style more of what you would expect the best bicycle repair shop to have, following manufacturer’s recommendations. There are large charts in the back of the book for reference on torque wrench settings and other things. Zinn writes very well, and offers prolific sound advice for the care of the bicycle both in the shop and on the road. This book is also quite worth having in a cycle shop library.

Review of three cycle touring books

October 23rd, 2011

The bicycle touring season has come to a close in the Northwest, and so planning for next year needs to occur. Trip planning, repair of the bicycles and equipment, and review of current and future technologies all needs to take place. So, here are three books that I have just read, presented  in the order in which they were read.

Bicycling Magazine’s Guide to Bike Touring, by Doug Donaldson ★★★★

This book has a subtitle “Everything You Need to Know to Travel Anywhere on a Bike”. Actually, it is not a terribly comprehensive book on cycle touring, but written in magazine style, designed to hold a 30 second attention span. It is well written, interlaced with much humor. This book would be best for the early novice in cycle touring, the person who has never tried cycle touring before. It is a great introduction, and thus the four stars, rather than the 2-3 that I would have otherwise given it. The book did offer some advice unknown to me such as bicycle repair tricks in an emergency. Generally, it tended toward magazine style recommendations for tours and tended to recommend products advertising in Bicycling Magazine. It had lengthy advice for drafting (????, hello, this is touring, NOT road racing!!!!), exercises to do to get in shape (try just getting on a bike!), advice on picking a tour company (?, ok, sure….) and a lengthy chapter on nutrition, all of which seemed to be more filler material than good touring advice. Get the book if you have never tried cycle touring before, and you will be inspired. Otherwise, see below.

Bike Touring (A Sierra Club Outdoor Adventure Guide), by Raymond Bridge ★★★★★

This is the best bicycle touring book available, though not the most inspirational. Bridge writes in a straightforward but informative style. He provides the most comprehensive text, including numerous references to the internet and to other books on bicycling and related topics. The book is divided into three sections. The first paints the picture of what it means to cycle tour. In this section, he discusses the various types of cycle touring, including self-contained touring (camping out and doing your own cooking), as well as “credit-card” touring (staying in hotels and eating out everywhere). The second section is a comprehensive discussion of the types of equipment, beginning with the bicycle, discussing then bicycle components of interest, cycle touring clothing, repair tools, lights, locks, panniers and trailers, and camping gear. Finally, Bridge discusses in the third section the actual act of cycle touring, including route planning, and the style of self contained vs. supported (hotel) tours. There is a sizable resource guide at the end for additional books on cycling, bicycle repair, tour companies, map sources, etc. This book is well worth obtaining simply as a reference.

Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, by Stephen Lord ★★★★

This book is meant for the person who wishes to leave civilization and travel beyond the US/Canada or Western Europe and into the hinterlands of foreign countries. The book is divided into three parts, the first being an invaluable reference to planning such a trip, equipment, etc., etc. The second part provides recommendations for routes throughout the world, with a focus on Central Asia, South America and Africa. The first part are anecdotal tales written by various cyclists on their adventures in the greater world. This book has many inset stories and information pieces inserted throughout the text and written by different authors that provide personal experiences. After reading the book, I realized that I did not have an overwhelming interest in exploring Tibet, Outer Mongolia or Zanzibar on a bicycle. Should my mind change, this will be the first book that I consult.

Colossus

October 9th, 2011

Colossus, by Niall Ferguson ????

I had just reviewed another book by Niall Ferguson, and this book is actually quite complementary. The overall thesis of this book is that the USA is actually an Empire, and that that is a good thing. The first few chapters start with a history of the United States from the international perspective, showing how the USA has always stated a non-Empire status, while simultaneously behaving like an emerging empire. Even with statements from our recent presidents and some GOP presidential candidates that we are not an empire, Ferguson provides adequate details to show that they indeed are different from all other prior empires that the world has known, yet their very behavior in international politics is consistent with empire status. Ferguson then develops the theme of the Brjitish Empire, emphasizing its triumphs and failures as a world dominating force. Another recently reviewed book by me (The Rise and Fall of the British Empire) takes a quite caustic view of the British Empire. This book has a more balanced view, discussing how the empire status of the British was ultimately mutually beneficial to both England and the subject country. Most notably, the institution of the rule of law and honest commercial interchange was instilled in many countries that are now benefiting from that. The departure of the British often has led to greatly decreased GDP and oftentimes to civil war or catastrophes far worse.  Ferguson also delves into the negative side of empire, showing how England invested far more in foreign nations than they gained, ultimately leading to a diminished status of England in the world at large. He then discusses the positive and negative aspects of the USA as empire, specifically focusing on our near bankrupt status as a nation and the potential instability of both the European Union and the US economic situation. Yet he sees the need for a dominant force in the world that would promote the continuation of free trade and economic stability. Ferguson looks at matters nearly entirely from the viewpoint of an economist as ex-patriot Brit. Though he does briefly bring up the religious question of the loss of faith in Europe, he does not equate that in any way as being a potential harmful matter but merely as a fact of note comparing the difference between American and European society.  I would tend to be a bit hesitant to not attribute other factors as leading to the rise and fall of nations (see Isaiah 40:15-27). Thus, I would personally attribute the greatest danger of the USA is its loss of faith in the Judeo-Christian God.

Ferguson is a provocative read and very informative. I would recommend this book, though I do not entirely agree with everything he says. He certainly is quite thought provoking, and will certainly force one to rethink their stance of Empire, whether one comes from a liberal or conservative perspective.

 

The Ascent of Money

September 23rd, 2011

The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson ?????

The review reluctantly receives 5 stars in that I disagree with many of the suppositions and conclusions of the author. Yet, Ferguson makes a fascinating story of the money world that is quite worth reading. His writing style tends to lead to many thought provoking hours if one takes the time to consider the implications of money history. And, as the subtitle states, it is a financial history of the world. Ferguson presents six chapters with an epilogue questioning whether the financial world as we know it will persist. But, that question is not to be approached in this review, as I don’t have a clue. The six chapters neatly divide money history into 1. The history of stocks, 2. The history of bonds, 3. The history of central banks, 4. The history of the insurance industry, 5. The history of the mortgage market, focusing on the US, and 6. Globalization and its implications in the world of finance, including the role of the IMF and World Bank. Ferguson makes a good but not solid case against a gold standard in economics, though he never really challenges the gold standard as such. The strength of this book is that Ferguson is able to show how all monetary systems are not fool-proof, and highly subject to the foibles of man. Perhaps the world economic boon suggests that the economic system with corrections is the best that could be, though a serious crash, perhaps sufficient to enter the world into another dark age, might rule that out. My distress with Ferguson’s book is that he left much unanswered. How did civilizations such as Rome in times past build massive systems without stocks, bonds, derivatives and hedge funds? How was America able to be most successful in the pre-Jekyll Island days? Is it right that there is a massive surge in “money managers” that make ungodly sums of money for doing nothing but gambling? Shouldn’t money managers and corporate executives be held personally responsible for failures since the receive massive personal gain from success? I’ll leave those questions and many more to a subsequent book by Ferguson. In the meantime, go out and get a copy of this book to read-you’ll be glad you did.

Under the Banner of Heaven

August 25th, 2011

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer ???

This is the second book I’ve read by Jon Krakauer, the first being Into Thin Air, a story of a disastrous climb on Everest. Though Krakauer has a very likeable writing style, he is not always the best at contending for historical facts. The Everest climb story held some extremely slanted and monocular views of events that clouded an unbiased appraisal of what really happened on Mt. Everest. In terms of the Everest climb Anatoli Boukreev offered a much more believable account. Both of those books (Into Thin Air, and The Climb) have been previously reviewed by me. Krakauer makes similar editorial mistakes in this book.

Under the Banner of Heaven, according to Krakauer, was intended to be a critical historical review of the Mormon church. During his investigations, the book instead morphed into two intertwined stories, both complementing the other, of the development of the Mormon church, and using that history to offer insights into the murder of a mother and child in the heart of Mormon-land. The two main accomplices in the murder, the Lafferty brothers, committed the crime under the rationale that God gave them clear instructions to do so, based on their Mormon faith. While exploring the history of the Lafferty family, Krakauer necessarily unveils a large contingent of strict Mormons that are part of break-away sects that also practice polygamy. The details of these colonies, scattered throughout the Western United States, Western Canada, and Northern Mexico also bring to light the complex thinking that leads people in the Mormon faith to proclaim that God has spoken to them. After all, they are simply following the example of their leader, Joseph Smith. Many of the “fundamentalists” manifest an extreme political viewpoint that fits neither “right- nor left- wing” ideology, that of absolute freedom of the individual with limited government and extreme patriarchy ruling over an extended family.

This book has strengths and weaknesses. Krakauer is a poor historian in not adequately exploring the various interpretations and viewpoints to an event, before discussing why he chose a given viewpoint. Krakauer is superb at writing a good story, and, criticisms aside, does a very capable job of noting how bizarre the Mormon faith happens to be, and how quickly it can transmogrify itself to suit the needs of the moment, such as abolishing polygamy or accepting blacks into the eldership of the church. The story fits other readings that I’ve had of Mormon history, and it defies explanation as to why Mormons would hold so tenaciously to a belief system that hides its past and pretends it really doesn’t exist. This, in and of itself, makes the book very much worth reading.

Krakauer makes a mistake at the end of the book by trying to wax philosophical. His spiritual mentors, of whom he freely quotes, are Karen Armstrong and William James. Specifically with James, Krakauer accepts the notion of religious experience being nothing other than a psychological event. Yet, he (and James) fail to notice that all human experience is essentially psychological, including whatever scientific knowledge we may possess. Like the miracle worker who has events come true when commanded, the scientist notes that his theories lead to “events” that come true that furthers their faith in the religion of science. That is a dangerous road to take, because it deconstructs any possible experience of anything, whether or not you define it as sacred or secular.  The assumption is that since there are  “quack” religious groups, all religious groups must be suspect. Even worse is the assumption that because there is not 100% uniformity of opinion as to truth regarding “god”, “god” must not exist or is at least unknowable. Similar arguments could be made against the sciences, since any disagreement suggests that ultimately even scientific truth is unknowable. Epistemological nihilism becomes the only truth. The underlying assumption in all of James statements is the God simply does not exist, or is absolutely and totally unknowable.  Thus, his arguments of the psychological nature of religious experience is a circular argument that offers no proof for or against God, nor for the veracity of the experience. Christian doctrine suggests that there is a connection between the “5th dimension”, or the “alternate universe” and ours, and in that alternate universe, a battle is raging with forces both good and evil, the good eventually winning. Religious experience could be encountered from either the good or evil forces, and the ultimate determination for the side may be evaluated through God’s word to man in the form of the Scriptures. Using Scripture as an ultimate reference point, the Mormon doctrines don’t stand, and suggest any religious experience of a Mormon nature be through the evil forces that wage battle against the good.

Krakauer spends a chapter discussing the issue of the insanity defense that Lafferty’s lawyers gave to prevent the execution of Dan Lafferty. This legal argument continues to rage. Public legal assumption is that any belief structures that extremely differ from normative must be proof of insanity. This denies the possibility of a person simply being evil. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Ze Dung, Pol Pot, and W. Churchill all must have been insane since they all lived the most desperately evil lives (though Churchill managed to maintain a sense of acceptability!). It is interesting that even in illiterate third world countries or among savages, a concept of insanity exists, and that insane people are clearly seen and identified without the aide of a psychiatrist.

The appendix offers Krakauer’s rebuttal to a response by a high ranking elder in the Mormon church to Krakauer. This elder appropriately identifies Krakauer’s weaknesses, yet fails to see his own dismal historical weaknesses. It is clear that the Mormon church will force an interpretation of history that best suits their own agenda, rather than the known facts of the historical events.

All in all, this is a good book to read. It is a good reminder of the consequences of reacting against the whole of society, as many I am personally acquainted with have tended to do. It is also a warning against the Mormon church, which appears quite innocent, yet there is something rotten in the church from its very inception, that troubles the church today.

Tea

August 14th, 2011

I have given up most of my coffee consumption and turned to tea. At first, I used tea bags, and had about 10-15 different varieties. I was always in amazement when Dr. Liao would decline having tea, as he commented that he just didn’t like the taste of the tea that I brewed up. So, I asked him to bring me back some good chinese tea on his next trip to China. He did, and brought me a box that had eight different flavors.

Since then, I’ve slowly evolved into using only tea leaves. You can see my tea cabinet. Only a portion of the teas I brew are visible, and some are actually just using old containers.

I brew the tea in a white ceramic pot or cast iron pot, kept warm over a tea candle apparatus.

I use a Finum strainer for the tea. These are very nice, since you can remove the tea leaves after the appropriate infusion time, and can reinfuse the leaves quite easily. The lid also serves as a convenient base to prevent tea from getting on the counter.

At the office, I use a larger ceramic pot, with a hot water pot to boil the water.

Learning how to properly brew tea takes practice, experience, but a good book also gives one an idea as to techniques for making the perfect pot of tea. The book below also discusses the various types of tea, their origin and their differences. Generally, there are Chinese vs. Indian teas. Africa does produce some teas like Rooibos, which I’ve found to be quite distasteful. The Chinese/Indian teas vary from black, Oolong, green, flavored (like Jasmine), mixed (like Earl Grey), or moldy (like Pu-Erh). Pu-Erh tea is actually quite interesting, in that the 2-5 infusions are all quite good. The tea smells like a barnyard, but the taste is very nice.

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, by M. Heiss and R. Heiss ???

This book is a good introductory summary for the tea lover. Happy brewing!!!

Wagner’s Ring

August 14th, 2011

Wagner’s Ring: Turning the Sky Round, by M. Owen Lee ??

This is one of now many analyses of Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. Lee apparently is a Catholic priest, and these short essays were from radio commentary that he gave. This was read at the recommendation of a number of reviewers on Amazon.com. I found that Lee does an excellent superficial analysis of the plot, and suggests that the “deeper” meaning to be communicated in the operas is best seen on a psychological study of the Ring from the viewpoint of Wagner himself. Lee suggests that Wagner is attempting a Nietzschean twist on evolution, suggesting the death of the old gods, and an emergence of an enlightened mankind superior to our past. Having recently listened to Robert Greenberg’s analysis of the Ring as found in the Teaching Company recordings, I tend to agree toward Greenberg. Lee seems to idolize Wagner as a deep thinker. Greenberg instead views Wagner as the most profound of composers but simultaneously the most evil of all men whose ideology is repulsive. From what I know about Wagner, I think Greenberg is closer to the real Wagner. It is a pity that such amazingly beautiful music has a dark side to it, and must be listened to for the quality of the music. The underlying messages must be glossed over and the Ring watched solely for its superficial message, as Lee manifests in this short book.

The Battle

August 14th, 2011

The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future, by Arthur Brooks ????

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Lattin based on a World Magazine review, and it was a good choice. It is short, and can be easily read in 1-2 evenings. Brooks identifies that in America, there are essentially two types of people, 70% who prefer small government, free markets, and private enterprise, and 30% who prefer large government, socialism, and relative equality of incomes for all citizens. It is the 30% who seem to control government, media, and Hollywood. There are four chapters in this book. In the first, Brooks delineates the problem. Chapter two discusses how the liberals and media have it all wrong in discussing the cause for the economic downturns of the last century, showing how it was government and not “greedy capitalists” who caused the problem. Brooks doesn’t spare either Republicans or Democrats, and is particularly harsh on the statements and decisions of our current fool-in-chief, Barry O. Chapter 3 shows how working for a living rather than being on a government dole actually makes people happier, and concomitantly more productive. The last chapter offers a moral argument, that it is only right that one work for a living, and that forced government redistribution is immoral. While I agree with the global thesis of this book and most of the particulars, he fails only in not showing how our abandonment of God, religious structures, and Biblical moral framework has ultimately been the cause for America’s downturn.

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

August 13th, 2011

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Edited by Norman C. Nevin ????

This is probably the last evolution book that I’m going to read and review for a while. This compilations of essays were written by British authors, mostly as a response to Denis Alexander, and British counterpart to USA’s Francis Collins in advocating theistic evolution. The book was recommended by World Magazine as a top read of the year, so it made sense to complete my evolution reads with this text. In all, I appreciated the mixture of a strong Biblical response with the provision of a scientific defense for creation. The scientific data was a rehash of much that I’ve read in the past and recently reviewed volumes. If I hadn’t grown weary of creation vs. evolution texts I’d probably have given it a higher recommendation. I agree with World that this is a superb summary defense for a Biblical approach to creation/evolution.

 

Genesis 1-4

August 13th, 2011

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins ?????

This book offers a detailed analysis of the first four chapters in Genesis in an attempt to bring clarity to our understanding as to the events of creation and the first few years of man on earth. Collins certainly possesses the necessary credentials, having an advanced degree in the sciences from MIT, as well as further M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees in theology and linguistics. I have heard criticisms of Dr. Collins, mostly related to him having abandoned a Biblical approach to Genesis, and having caved in to the the god of Science. Thus, the reading of this text was done in a critical fashion. I have found that the exact opposite of his critics is true. Jack Collins is a breath of fresh air in conservative scholarship, neither giving in to modernist approaches to creation nor to traditional theories of creation. Instead, Collins maintains a prevailing stance of the preeminence of Scripture over science, and that is seen on each and every page of this text. True, he doesn’t subscribe to a 24-hour young earth interpretation of Genesis 1, yet, he offers substantial support to an old earth hypothesis that allows for a 6 day creation in God’s time.

The flow of the book is somewhat different from what I’m used to in that the sources, authorship, and purpose of Genesis is left to the end of the book, and for good reason for one reading the text from front to back cover. He initiates the book with his method of discourse analysis. He briefly explores the questions that Genesis is trying to answer. He then does a step-by-step analysis on a linguistic basis of the four pericopes of Genesis 1-4, interestingly and for good reason, including the Cain and Abel pericope and aftermath.

Collins concludes the book first with a discussion of source criticism, laying claim that even if one were to identify various sources, it doesn’t contribute to analysis of the book, since the book was masterfully compiled by Moses in a manner that leaves it as a unity rather than a fragmented mishmash. He then puts on his science background hat to explore the claims of Genesis in the light of modern science, but refuses to force science and Genesis into two separate realms. Thus the book concludes by showing how Genesis 1-4 establishes a very distinct Judeo-Christian world view.

My greatest appreciation for this book was that Collins always held a high view of Scripture, and never allowed science to preempt Scripture. Collins maintained a sense of humility toward questions that could not be answered in Genesis even in the light of the remainder of Scripture. Collins offers a forceful and cogent response to the source critics. Of particular note is the hypothesis that Gen. 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25 are two different creation stories that a redactor sloppily reassembled. Unfortunately, many “conservative” scholars have concurred with this hypothesis. Rather, Collins shows how Gen 2:4-25 was a masterful clarification of the sixth day of creation.

In all, this is one of the better books that I have read on the early Genesis pericopes, and I laud Collins for his perspicuity and insights over a controversial topic. This book is highly recommended to all who have a passing interest in the various debates regarding old and young earth creationism.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

August 13th, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins

I have recently reviewed one of Jack Collin’s other books on Genesis 1-4. This text addresses a limited portion of that other book, focusing on a theological as well as scientific argument for the existence of a single pair of people forming the source and basis for the remainder of humanity.  There is a moderate amount of repetition between this book and the Genesis 1-4 text, and yet sufficient distinction to make both books worth reading. Collins seems to mostly be directing his arguments toward the new thinking of Theistic Evolution, and specifically countering arguments of the BioLogos forum that states that man evolved from hominids in the distant past, slowing acquiring their distinction as humans with a relationship to god. Briefly, Collins engages in an analysis of the key Adam and Eve texts throughout Scripture, and substantiates the importance of a single Adam and Eve character for the development of the whole of Christian theology. Throw out the traditional Adam and Eve and you result in a Christianity of a completely alien character to what we know. Thus, Adam and Eve must be more than theoretical or abstract constructs.

Three appendices at the end of the book were of great value to read in addition to the main text, and thus must not be skipped. The first dealt with a discussion of other ancient creation and flood texts that archeologists have made available to us. The second demonstrates Collin’s mind in reviewing James Barr, showing Collin’s ability to glean valuable insights from a writer that tends to lace his writings with what might be called theological rubbish. The third appendix is a brief discussion of timing in Genesis.

This is a short book to read, and can be handled by the usual person in several long evenings. The insights from this book offer valuable arguments against much of the trends in theistic evolution, as well as theological discussions that must be the thinking of all orthodox Christians. I would advise that Collin’s other text Genesis 1-4 be read before this text, and hopefully someday he merges the two texts into one tome.

 

God and Evolution

July 25th, 2011

God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards ????

This text is written by a number of scholars at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA from an Intelligent Design perspective to counter the theistic evolution movement. Surprisingly many evangelical theologians and pastors have given their imprimatur to the theistic evolution movement, including Bruce Waltke, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Robert Schuler (?), Tim Keller, and Mark Noll to name a few. The theistic evolution movement argues that their stance is consistent with an orthodox reading of Scripture held in an inerrant fashion. This book seeks to establish that theistic evolution falls out of the traditional Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish beliefs.

The first emphasizes the importance of correct thinking on evolution. Richards  and West argue that errors in thinking on evolution has led to such heresies as gnosticism and deistic views of God. Richards identifies prominent Christian leaders like Tim Keller, who seem entirely inconsistent and poorly thought out on his evolution beliefs. Ultimately, the bioLogos movement tends to destroy more theological truths, including a rigorous view of the fall, and a denial that God is present and active in this world. Collin’s efforts to make evolution compatible with a strict view of Scripture has not engendered acceptance of the atheistic evolutionist crowd, primarily because evolution is much more than a scientific theory, but rather a complete belief system about the universe. Luskin spends a chapter detailing why theistic evolution will never appease the atheists in the crowd. Of greatest perplexity is Francis Collins’ strong reaction against the Intelligent Design movement. Attempts at reconciling science and religion had led to the proposal of differing spheres of influence (NOMA), which again reflects confused thinking since science and religion regularly overlap, whether one is a theist or an atheist. Demski investigates the claim that theistic evolution gets God “off the hook” for creating evil, yet argues that is does nothing of the sort, since God remains directly or indirectly “responsible” for evil. Witt then focuses directly on Collins’s position, focusing on his anti-ID stance. In the process, Collins must maintain that the so-called imperfections of nature attest to an imperfect or clumsy God who can’t get things right the first time around (as though theistic evolution solves the problem!). Wells feels that Collins prematurely caved into his atheistic buddies in the science world, but seriously compromised himself in the process by not promoting the notion of a God as immediate creator of the universe. Richards details the belief system of Howard Van Till, showing how Van Till suggested a mechanism built into the system from the beginning by God  which would lead to the tendency toward the evolution of life, called the “robust formational economy principle”. To me, this sound much like an anthropic-teleological principle, with the entire system bent toward the non-random formation of humans. Yet, Richards argues that this is not how we see nature to be, and forms very shaky theological grounds. In the end, Van Till offers more confusion than direction. Van Till himself has since abandoned an orthodox view of God, even being rejected by the now quite liberal Calvin College. Meyer summarizes by suggesting the theistic evolution fails to solve any of the questions that they attempt to solve, i.e, why nature doesn’t seem to have a perfect construction, as defined by our current concept of what an ideal, perfect world (or biological organism) would look like.

The remaining chapters are the Catholic and Jewish argument against theistic evolution. For the Catholic, much discussion related to medieval concepts of nomism vs. realism, Aristotelian thinking in the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and the formal positions of the Catholic church. For the Jewish crowd, discussion of great minds such as Maimonides and traditional Jewish thought through the ages was details. Klinghoffer suggested that while the preponderance of Jews, whether reformed or orthodox,  have blindly accepted evolution as an explanation for the world without conflict with the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent thinking, this is a result of very poor thinking as to traditional Jewish belief systems.

In all, this book is a superb tour de force contra the theistic evolution crowd. It avoids the young earth/old earth controversy and focuses entirely on the problem Christians assuming that science must speak first, followed by us conforming our theological beliefs to science. To this end, I fear that many conservative theologians are gravely in error subscribing to theistic evolution. It leaves me wondering how my own denomination (the PCA) could close a blind eye to Tim Keller (perhaps because he has a large successful church) while forming a witch-hunt in a minor theological dispute with Peter Leithart.

The Myth of Junk DNA

July 24th, 2011

The Myth of Junk DNA, by Jonathan Wells ?????

The issue of Junk DNA has arisen from the claims that theistic evolutionists make arguing that the presence of “junk” DNA is proof that the genome was formed to a large extent from random events. Junk DNA refers to DNA in the genome that does not seem to encode any sort of protein. It is well known that the preponderance of our genome consists of “junk” DNA, and for the most part, its function is not well described. Oddly, the amount of “junk” DNA seems to vary among species, and particular attention is made to the presence of unusually high quantities of “junk” DNA in the onion genome. Wells effectively counters the limpid arguments of such scholars as Francis Collins in noting many discoveries that have shown “junk” DNA to play a role in the genome. First, he shows that much non-protein-coding DNA is still transcribed, and plays vital roles in gene regulatory events, oftentimes during embryologic development. Secondly, he shows how introns (also identified as “junk” DNA) play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulatory events. So-called pseudogenes (genes which are active in some species but “defective” in others) oftentimes also are transcribed and involved in regulatory events. Further chapters detail how other aspects of non-protein-coding DNA are useful in sundry aspects of cell division and growth, such as the necessity of this “junk” DNA to permit centromere function. Wells makes no claim to fully understand the functions of the entirety of the genome, but insists that it is arrogant to ascribe an absence of utility for biological entities whose usefulness is not yet understood. He more than capably destroys the idea that junk DNA is an argument for theistic evolution and against intelligent design.

I took a class in graduate school in 1986 that was in the department of molecular biology and whose subject was pre- and post-transcriptional genomic regulation. Already, much evidence was known that seemed to be dismantling a strict Watson-Crick schema of protein production. Though much of the class was a little over my head in terms of research details, the basic concept of a much greater complex schema of cell regulatory events was already clear. Proteins, chromatin, large and small RNA elements all seemed to play a confusing role in turning genes on and off, in determining what would be translated, and what would be stable versus transitory mRNA elements. This book shows that our knowledge of gene regulatory events has creeped forward a touch. We are still left with an enormous vacuum of understanding as to how the cell truly regulates itself throughout its lifetime. Evolutionists, regardless of whether they are of the theistic vs. atheistic variety, glibly fill in the missing facts with the assumption that science will ultimately answer everything. In reality, they are creating a belief system which I call science-of-the-gaps, which is far more perverse than the God-of-the-gaps accusation directed toward creationists or intelligent design adherents. Creationists of all stripes will admit that science may offer some explanations of the large voids in our knowledge, and that doesn’t do violence to the creationist stance. Evolutionists would never concede that much of their gaps will always remain gaps, since their theory cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of the world as we see it. Their arguments are not won by the force of reason but by the force of arrogant proclamation. I commend Wells for offering solid reason to admit that there is much to yet learn about the genomic structure. Being head of the NIH does not confer Collins the role of science-Pope who can speak ex cathedra for God in matters of evolution, and this book skillfully demonstrates a lacuna in Collins’ thinking.

 

 

Bonhoeffer

July 11th, 2011

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas ????

Bonhoeffer’s is a story worth reading, and well told by Eric Metaxas. It is the tale of a young German growing up in the academic circles of Berlin, deciding to go into theology, only to break away from the liberal tendencies in theology as found in Berlin. Through experiences as a young pastor and student in Spain, London, and NY City, Bonhoeffer matures in his faith towards seeing God not as a distant “other” but somebody with whom daily life interacts. Changes in the German political scene with the rise of Hitler and state interference with the church caused Bonhoeffer to form the separate Bekennendekirche (Confessing church) movement, as well as the institution of a seminary to train young pastors. Bonhoeffer then becomes involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Though jailed initially for other reasons, he ultimately is executed for his role in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.  The books reads well, though often would be better served by leaving long quotes as footnotes.

Metaxas develops Bonhoeffer as a remarkable person, able to see through the vapidness of his theology professors, yet still able to treat them with respect and honor. Bonhoeffer was a man who operated on principle, with an ever deepening faith in God that controlled his entire life. Metaxas also paints Bonhoeffer as a person whose life raises serious questions. I will offer three comments.

1. Is he a model of virtue that we should all follow, especially in regard to our reaction to an evil state? My personal answer is that he is  not. Bonhoeffer, being executed for his role in plot against Hitler, and not for his role as a pastor, makes him an accomplice to an assassin and not a martyr. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer… yet if anybody suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed” IPeter 4:15-16a. The test of time proved that attempts to assassinate Hitler were providentially ineffective, and God was able to handle Hitler and his henchmen quite nicely at the appropriate time.

2. Bonhoeffer proposes a graded absolutist ethic, which is fraught with intense problems. His ethic is not novel, and is usually discussed in most ethics texts. In it, Bonhoeffer allows that a lesser evil (such as the murder of Hitler, or lying), is permissible in order to accomplish a greater good (freedom of the world from a tyrant) or to avoid a greater evil (the killing of masses of Jews). Unfortunately, this ethic essentially permits any action to occur, since all of our actions are designed to enact a “good”, either to ourselves or to a specific group. The arguments against graded absolutism would be very lengthy and not appropriate for a book review.

3. Bonhoeffer never divorces himself from the liberal camp, becoming at odds with Karl Barth not for his bad theology, but for his bad social approach to the Nazi regime. In his 1939 visit to New York, his identity with American Christianity was mostly limited to his exposure to the dead theology circles of Union Seminary. Bonhoeffer develops a deep spirituality, but this is in the context of social activism, and not in the context of seeking a correct theology. Never do we see a Bonhoeffer whose highest good is the truth. Put in a Christian context, Bonhoeffer holds that worship and obedience take precedence over truth, yet Bonhoeffer fails to see that in reality, they are indivisible, and orthodoxy and orthopraxy are intimately bound. Bonhoeffer’s interest in visiting Ghandi is puzzlesome. Not that Ghandi is not an admirable person, but that Ghandi does not provide a Biblical solution to man’s dilemmas and offers no explanation for the evil that comes out of man, which was soon to destroy Bonhoeffer.

This book is recommended as the spirited retelling of a life worthy of mention, and often an example for all of us in standing against evil. It is a warning of Christians to not compromise their beliefs in the accommodation to the state. It is a devotional plea to always live ones’ moments as corum deo. Thus, it is a book recommended to all.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

June 18th, 2011

The Heresy of Orthodoxy, by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger ????

This book was written as a defense of Scripture, and contra the Bauer-Ehrman thesis. In short, the Bauer-Ehrman thesis supposes that early Christendom consisted of many “orthodoxies”, and that the rise of Constantine and state church forced a given “orthodoxy” on the rest of us. Concurrent with this thinking, the numerous pseudographia and gnostic texts discovered in the last several hundred years have brought some theologians, Ehrman especially, to consider these texts as on par and equal in consideration as the Scriptures that we have. Also argued is that because of textual corruption, it is impossible to know exactly what the Scriptures are or should be. To this, Köstenberger and Kruger capably argue in opposition. The flow of the book is as follows. In the first section, the authors argue that there indeed was diversity within the early church, but that there was a prevailing orthodoxy, and clear conception even in the first century of heresy. The diversity among orthodox thinking was minor and not related to major issues of gnosticism, or the doctrines of God and Christ. The second section develops the idea that a canon of Scripture was apparent early in the second century, and even in the mid to late first century of Christianity, contra Ehrman who claims a very late concept of the canon of Scripture. It was clear early on which texts did not fit into the canon and which texts did. The last section discusses the preservation of the texts, arguing that an intelligent Christian population existed early on who could copy and read the text, and that although tampering could be seen in the text, it never significantly altered the overall meaning of the text. The book is a worthy read for those interested in one of the many battles occurring over the Scriptures today.

The Christ of the Prophets

June 16th, 2011

The Christ of the Prophets, by O. Palmer Robertson ?????

I’ve already reviewed a number of books by OP Robertson, and this one is among the best. It is not exactly the book I expected, but actually better than I expected. The layout of the book is quite simple, in that the preliminary chapters introduce the notion of prophetism in Israel, and the general theology of prophecy. The latter chapters run through the various prophets in a chronological fashion, giving a short summary of their environment, thesis, and end result. Overlaid throughout the book is a systematic attack on the new liberal thinking which has even pervaded the writings of many conservative biblical scholars. He shows how the new approaches of redaction and literary criticism tend to offer more confusion than clarity to a text, while simultaneously offering explanations for textual origin that are completely unsubstantiated. Because the Scriptures claim that validity of the prophet is determinant on the truth of the prophecy, to make claim that the prophetic words were written after the fact essentially invalidate the prophet and the Scriptures. Yet, conservative scholars will give in and allow for the claims of higher criticism. The only outcome of this is to allow academia to act as a front for unbelief. Robertson shows quite clearly that there is no reason or justification for not believing the prophetic words of the Old Testament at their face value. The attack on higher criticism found in this book makes it more than worthy of a reading. Robertson is not only the best of the best in academic thinking, but also the best of the best at being entirely Biblical in his thinking and approach to God’s Word.

Demonic

June 11th, 2011

Demonic, How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter ??

The first 20 pages of this book, I thought that I might be giving this book a 5 star rating. I’ve read (and reviewed) other Ann Coulter books, and agree with much of what she has to say. So, when I saw this book on sale at Costco, decided that it wouldn’t hurt to read it. As with other Coulter books, much of what she has to say could (and should) have been said in the first chapter. Ann doesn’t know when to stop talking. Though she brings up many historical tidbits that the press seemed to ignore about the liberal “mob”, her persistence tends to grow weary as she seems to go nowhere with her thinking. The second section of this book does a poor and brief recollection of the French revolution, and then attempts to correlate that with the behavior of modern Democrats (liberals). Somehow, Ann is convinced that the Democrats and Republicans are two difference species of animal. This leads to page by page arrogant rants as to how the liberals never do anything right and conservatives never do anything wrong. Her absence of humility becomes quite intolerable. Ann lives in her own world. She refuses to find any problem with Obama’s birth certificate, only because this is not a bandwagon that she can ride. She viciously attacks the non-neo-cons Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan for no good reason other than having properly thought out a Christian-constitutional approach to foreign policy. In her last pages of the book, she actually has the audacity to support the terribly liberal treaty of Versailles, probably the greatest mistake of the 20th century. Ms. Coulter should perhaps re-read history, including the history of the mob, which was used by various factions, conservative and liberal throughout the Greek and Roman empire. But then, according to Ann, the mob defines one as liberal. I’ll make sure I never go to a Republican rally, as they also try to engender a “mob” think. Though I agree with much of Ann’s rantings about the extreme bias of the press, better books have been written to develop this thesis. I too detest much of what is liberal in America, yet I find conversations with liberals oftentimes informative and thought-provoking. This is perhaps the last book I’ll ever read by Ann, as there are others that develop her themes much better and argue with consistency. As for Ann, a little humility might help. She needs to spend more time reading and listening, and less time talking. She might also be best served by getting married, though I’d feel a touch sorry for her husband.

Digital Landscape Photography

May 18th, 2011


Digital Landscape Photography, by John and Barbara Gerlach ?????
This must be one of the best landscape photography books that I’ve read in a while. Written in a very non-sophisticated style, John and Barbara offer page after page of highly practical advice on how to obtain better landscape photos. John uses the Canon system and Barbara the Nikon system, together giving a broad spectrum of tips for whichever system you use. Chapters range from discussions of camera systems, best choice of lenses, and other equipment issues, to composing the photo, seeking optimal lighting, setting the proper exposure, obtaining the best sharpness in the photo, to post-processing issues like producing HDR and panorama shots. They are not shy to mention which special equipment they might use, most of which is inexpensive and readily available in the USA. To supplement their discussions, multiple examples of their photography are offered, demonstrating how their techniques successfully produce splendid landscape photos. This is a book that will be re-studied from time to time, and not set to collect dust in some obscure portion of my bookshelves.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book

April 23rd, 2011


The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book, by Martin Evening ????
The book offers a comprehensive summary of all the functions of Lightroom 3, written by a professional photographer. The book is profuse with illustrations, making the book quite easy to follow along. Although I have been using Lightroom as my main storage/processing program for photographs for several years now, this book opened up many more possibilities for the way I could use Lightroom. Much of the functionality would apply more to a professional photographer, such of means of group processing large batches of photographs. Even still, Lightroom remains my preferred photograph program, and it was nice to learn how I could make it better serve my photographic needs.

The Time Crunched Cyclist

April 14th, 2011


The Time-Crunched Cyclist, by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg ???
Chris Carmichael is the primary trainer for Lance Armstrong. In this book, he suggests a program for those who are not professional cyclists, and thus find difficulty in riding their bicycle greater than 20 hrs/week. In the book, he proposes a program that can develop endurance training at only six or more hours a week. Much of the emphasis is placed on short extreme efforts in the saddle, and allowing enough rest between training periods to permit recovery. Carmichael offered a review of the basics of exercise physiology showing how that incorporates into the development of a training program. He also discusses other sundry aspects of training, such as nutrition, and weight training. The book is an easy read text, and written in a practical manner. It does seem moderately oriented toward younger jocks who wish to have a job during the week, and then still compete on weekends.

Against All Gods

April 12th, 2011


Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism, by Phillip Johnson and John Reynolds ???
Phillip Johnson is most noted for the book Darwin on Trial and the start of the Intelligent Design movement. He quit writing for a few years owing to several strokes, and now has produced a book jointly with Reynolds regarding new movements in the community of atheism. In particular, Johnson makes note of the new militant atheism, not trying to live peaceably with people of faith, but rather, viciously opposing Christians and those of all religious creeds or beliefs. Johnson writes in a conversational style for the first five chapters of the book. After Johnson, Reynolds offer reflections on how atheism has not given classical writing a fair shake, and how atheism misses the bigger point in the realm of education and aesthetics. I didn’t find his statements to contribute much to Johnson’s comments. This is not a book that proves valuable new insights. It does offer a glimpse into Johnson’s thinking as to the new challenges of the Christian community against its detractors.

Bike Snob

April 8th, 2011


Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, by Bike Snob NYC (aka Eben Weiss) ????
Eben apparently writes a regular column for Bicycling magazine. I’ve never seen his column, though I also don’t subscribe to Bicycling magazine any more. Eben offers many humorous anecdotes, mostly from his own life, that cover the world of somebody who rides a bicycle simply for the joy of it. He is able to insult just about anybody who rides a bicycle, including himself. At the same time, tidbits of advice are offered, such as to lock your bicycle well, and to not fall into the fad of riding a bicycle without brakes. This was a short and enjoyable read that most bicycle riders would enjoy.

A Biblical History of Israel

April 8th, 2011

A Biblical History of Israel, by Provan, Long and Longman ????

This book ended up being considerably different than I expected from the cover, yet was a delightful and very informative read. I had expected a simple biblical narrative rehash of what I already knew from reading the OT 15-20+ times through. This book did not take that approach. The first five chapters were a defense of doing history, especially biblical history. Current modern liberal theologians tend to identify the Old Testament as entirely unreliable in accounting for a true history of events in Palestine, for reasons that include 1) history in the Old Testament mixes theology and history and thus is unreliable, 2) events of the Old Testament don’t precisely match archeological findings, and thus the OT text is in error, and 3) redaction criticism suggests a late writing of biblical history, which must thus be inaccurate. The authors shrewdly work through each of these objections, showing that the OT can be truly used as a legitimate source for ancient historical studies. The second part of the book then works through the narrative structure of the history of Israel, in particular identifying when liberal scholars note a discrepancy and show how variant reads of the OT text, or extreme extrapolations possible lead to errors on the part of the liberal scholars rather than the text of the OT. A simple example suffices. A recent archeological work failing to show proper period pottery in random digs around Jerusalem was interpreted to suggest that Jerusalem was not occupied during the suggested reign of King David. This is as ludicrous as me digging in my backyard, failing to find Indian artifacts, and thus concluding that Indians did not occupy the Pacific Northwest-aruguments of negation rarely ever prove anything. My disappointment with the book (and this is a serious one) is that none of the authors suggest that the OT might be divinely inspired, in spite of the occasional but insignificant corruptions of the original text. The authors may have been writing for a theologically liberal audience that they wished to not confuse, but it still would have been better to admit your bias, unless the authors truly do not hold to the notion that the Bible is the Word of God. Is it really academic to demand a “scientific” approach to the OT when attesting to its veracity? I don’t think so. The authors occasional comment on the mistake of reading the history from the OT in a “literal” fashion as a mistake, yet fail to distinguish how their lack of literalism differs from the liberal school theologians. For example, they go so far as to suggest that [some of the prophecies and wisdom books may be products of a later period (i.e., inter-testamental period), but this is a matter of speculation]. In the end, in their attempt to find acceptance among liberal theologians, the authors are willing to sacrifice a high view of Scripture, which is precisely the first event that led to liberal theology in the first place. Oddly, it makes no sense to placate these higher theologians, since theirs is a willing decision to reject the claims of Scripture even when shown to be substantially more likely than not to be true. Unfortunately, these liberal theologians sit on the faculty of many seminaries and departments of theology, hiding their absence of faith in the God of Scripture through a smokescreen of “academic rigueur”.

The Rage Against God

March 19th, 2011

The Rage Against God, by Peter Hitchens ?????
This book was loaned to me by Jonny (son) as a “must-read”. Jonny was correct, in that the book is excellent. Hitchens dialogues his adventures from growing up in a nominally Christian home and school system, and deciding to become an atheist at the young age of 13. Over time, he pursued his personal ideology, spending time in the former Soviet Union as a reporter. Slowly, Peter was able to see the inevitable consequences of a militant atheistic ideology, compelling him to move back into the realms of being a Christian. Much of this book engages the reader in exploring the consequences of atheism, particularly as Peter saw it in the communist countries that he visited. He also discusses encounters with his brother Christopher, who is an outspoken atheist and well known in the liberal press. Peter Hitchens offers valuable insights into the consequences of atheistic thinking. He discusses at length the fall of the west from Christianity to atheism, and shows that it has served us no good. The middle segment of the book addresses particular questions that are raised against Christianity, such as the issue that religion tends to create wars and not peace, that religion tends to be very harmful to children, especially in regard to sexuality and the lust of pedophile priests, and that faith in God tends to breed gullibility. Each of these charges and others are capably answered by showing that atheism has a far greater challenge of answering these same charges. The book is a wonderful read, I appreciated much of what he had to say about politics and religion, and appreciate Jonny for introducing me to the book.

An Old Testament Theology

March 12th, 2011


An Old Testament Theology, by Bruce K. Waltke ????
This book was a heavy read taking me several months and a number of interruptions to complete the entire text of 969 pages. It was a very rewarding read, as Dr. Waltke was able to impart insights into the Old Testament text that few scholars would be capable of. Every chapter was a treasure house of new understanding of old and familiar texts. Dr. Waltke is truly regarded as one of the pre-eminent scholars of the Hebrew language and Old Testament theology, and is regarded as such by both conservatives and liberals alike. Yet, there is a dark shadow cast over this text. It seems like Waltke, in trying to appease all camps, will often give unnecessary ground to the liberal school of redaction criticism. For example, his discussion of creation is superb, yet he lapses into the theistic evolution interpretation of creation for no compelling textual reason. Throughout the book, he hedges. For Isaiah, he admits that Isaiah I, II, and III were possibly written by the same person, yet allows for a liberal interpretation that each book of Isaiah was written hundreds of years apart. His arguments against Solomon being the author of Ecclesiastes seems a touch weak. I could point out many other examples if I could have remembered them. This should not discourage anybody from reading this text as it is a goldmine of Scripture truth. One must only read the text with caution and discernment.

Digital Landscape Photography

March 6th, 2011


Digital Landscape Photography, by Michael Frye ?????
The subtitle offers a good summary of this text “In the footsteps of Ansel Adams and the great masters”. Frye apparently studied under Ansel Adams, and has brought Adams Zone system into the digital arena. This book is a delight to read for a number of reasons. 1. His photography is stupendous. 2. He has a superb balance between art and technique. Frye has top mastery of not only the art of visualizing light and composing a photograph, but also in taking it to Photoshop/Lightroom to make it a presentation print. 3. I appreciate examples where he shows his “not so good” photographs next to his final photo, to see what he was good for in order to make a prize-winning print. My only minor complaint is that I wish he would have included camera settings on the photographs that he took. This book is a “must-read” for any aspiring nature photographer. I hope that Frye will write further books on this same topic.

Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam

March 6th, 2011


The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, by Robert Spencer ???
This book is supposed to offer the perspective on the religion of Islam that one would not encounter within the standard news media for the supposed sake of not offending anybody or of being tolerant. Yet, the religion of Islam is itself entirely intolerant of Christianity, and though not overtly offensive to Christians in that they do do make sport of the Christian “icons”, yet they still reserve notions of the Christian faith as the equivalent of the secular. Most of the discussion in this book is quite factual, and they do make clear that the religion of Islam is not a religion of peace. No where does the author imply that most Muslims are violent, and indeed, most are not. The author often puts up quotes of Mohammed next to quotes of Jesus. This is not a deeply informative book, and I’m sure most Muslims would take offense at the Christian interpretation of their Koran. The book is a good read to gain balance with what is constantly heard on American media.

The Mystery of the Gentiles

February 23rd, 2011


The Mystery of the Gentiles, by Ted Weiland ?
This book was read at the behest of brother Dennis, who felt that it would clarify various terms for me, such as defining exactly who a Jew, Israelite and Gentile was. The object of the book was to persuade the reader that 1. Who we call Jews today are actually Kazars and Edomites, 2. Who we call Gentiles in the Bible are actually Israelites who have taken over Europe. 3. The promises of salvation in Scripture remain limited to Israelites. The first chapter introduces the topic by suggesting that this is a mystery in Scripture that few people have noticed. It also suggests that most of us have misread Scripture by not taking care of terminology. Chapter 2 engages in defining the Jew according to Ted. Annoyingly, Ted repeatedly reminds us that the Jews do not necessarily refer to the Israelites of the Northern or Combined kingdom. Chapter 3 introduces the idea that the current Jews living in the state of Israel are actually Kazars or Edomites. Chapter 4 suggests that the biblical Israelites have become a subset of the “Gentiles”, gentile being also referred to in Scripture as the Nations. Chapter 5 further labors over trying to define the gentile, accusing translators with inconsistency in the translation of goyim and ethnos, yet always admitting that those words are used to refer to different things at different times. Chapter 6 attempts to offer a biblical argument that when the Scripture discusses promises to Israel, it could not possibly refer to a “spiritual” Israel, i.e., to non-Israelites who have faith in Christ. He even ventures that no non-Israelite would ever be predestined to the called (bottom of p. 51), thus negating the possibility of any non-Israelite being saved, and contradicting his arguments in the 2nd appendix. Chapters 7 & 8 offers Wieland’s interpretation of Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. Chapter 9 argues that the whole of Europe was actually occupied by migrations of the 10 “lost” tribes of Israel, thus affirming that the covenant to Israel related to Europe and not to other “nations” that were “non-Israelite”. Chapter 10 again resurrects the argument that the current Israelis are actually Edomites. It is hard to know where to start with a critical review of this book. The scholarship is so bad, so poorly argued, so inconsistent that it defies imagination. I was careful to look up a number of his quotes, such as to the Jewish Encyclopedia, which one may access on-line, to realize that the text is definitely NOT confirming the arguments of Weiland, but only presenting a number of theories of who the Jews are. Weiland presents nothing novel, in that British Israelism or Anglo-Israelism has been around at least two hundred years, and has failed in all aspects, historically, scripturally, logically, philologically, and experientially as a reasonable explanation of the definition of the Jew and the Gentile. Weiland demonstrates the danger of a little knowledge, and his amateurish use of Hebrew and Greek betrays a pitiful ignorance of language and translation demands. Weiland speaks in a very demeaning style, which is necessary for him in order to attempt to persuade somebody else of his preposterous claims. In his Scripture quotes, he routinely inserts his own definition of pronouns [the house of Judah], [the house of Israel], etc., which defies plain reads of the quoted Scripture. Weiland is an example of forming a theory, and then forcing history and Scripture to fit that. This has been done too many times, and the results are disastrous. In Wieland’s case, he is forced to conclude that “non-Israelites”, i.e, Africans, Asians, etc. do not share in the same covenant promises of the Israelites. Yet, to Wieland’s embarrassment, the Koreans, and African nations are exploding with Christians. Perhaps, Wieland would argue that they are lesser Christians that found in Europe and America. In summary, this book was so bad that it was a struggle to read. I pity the poor souls that actually believe this rubbish.

Adobe InDesign Styles

February 23rd, 2011

Adobe InDesign Styles, by Michael Murphy ????

I got to know Michael Murphy on the Podcast called “The InDesigner” and appreciated his insights and comments on InDesign. InDesign is the typographer’s dream, giving the typographer undreamed of control over the page and how type appears on the page. In this short book (as well as the two supplemental chapters downloaded from the internet), one learns the proper use of character, paragraph, and object styles, as well as styles used for tables. Murphy also gives a cursory review of GREP, and touches briefly on styles in the interface between word processors such as Microsoft Word and XHTML/CSS. The book was a slow read, but very helpful in learning more about some of the power of InDesign. The biggest weakness of the book was the failure to use enough examples, especially in the area of object styles, which was too cursory. This is a worthy read for the person who wishes to move beyond InDesign basics to increased power use of the program.

Defending Constantine

February 16th, 2011

Defending Constantine; The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, by Peter J. Leithart ?????

Constantine has received serious criticism from the time of his rise to power up to the present. Many claim that Constantine represents the downfall of the church, and the compromise of Christianity with the world. Numerous authors have argued over the course of many texts how Constantine was responsible more than any other person for the rise of a Christianity foreign to the sermon on the Mount. Constantine has earned the disapproval of both secular liberals, such as Gibbon, as well as Christians, such as John Howard Yoder, in his Politics of Jesus. Many recent writings, such as “Truth Triumphant-The Church in the Wilderness” base an entire theology on the corruptions of Constantine, and many have been mislead by failing to truly understand what Constantine did in favor of the Christian church. This book provides not only a historical review of Constantine, but also acts as a critique of Yoder and others, pointing out how Yoder is oftentimes seriously inaccurate as to the history of Constantine as well as the early church, and when the history is ambiguous or unknown, Yoder forces an interpretation of history most fitting with his thesis. In the end, the anti-Constantinians seem to entirely miss the significance of what Constantine accomplished not only for the church, but also for society in general. Leithart reminds us the the church under persecution prayed for an end to persecution, and for the rise of a Christianized government. They got exactly what they prayed for. Yoder finds it intolerable that a Christian could ever be involved in government, and so dismisses the conversion of Constantine as a fraud. Yet, Leithart argues that even in the words of Christ, there is a strongly political statement being made. After Constantine, world leaders were held by a different standard, a Christian standard, that simply did not occur before Constantine. Thus, though Constantine had some serious faults, many of his actions, like the killing of his wife and son, remain inexplicable since we simply don’t have the records to suggest why Constantine did what he did. Constantine is criticized by Yoder for maintaining a military, as he should have been a pacifist. Yet, Yoder is entirely hypocritical, in claiming that government serves a function under God, and that certain enforcement of laws and defense are necessary. This is a thick book, not so much in terms of the number of pages, but in terms of the dense quantity of information and argument provided by Leithart. It would be a challenge to offer an inclusive summary of all the gems this book has to offer, and suggest anybody interested pick up a copy and read it.

What’s So Great About Christianity

February 12th, 2011

What’s So Great About Christianity, by Dinesh D’Souza ???

Dinesh was recently reviewed by me with his book about Obama. This led me to read another book by him, and this text caught my eye. It is essentially an “apologetics lite” text. D’Souza does a whirlwind presentation of many of the major themes of apologetics without ever going into great depth into any one of them. The book sems to be primarily a polemic against some of the leading atheists of the day, including Gould, Hutchins, Harris, Sagan and others. In order of presentation, he discusses the rise of atheism in our culture and the rejection of Christianity, the invasion of science and the rejection of Christianity by offering an alternative, the response of inteligent design, the philosophical attack on Christianity, the problem of free will and determinism, the problem of evil, and finally a discussion of the uniqueness of Christianity with an appeal to the reader to consider the claims of Christ. The science chapters were the weakest, especially when D’Souza feels compelled to give credence to evolution. This doesn’t make sense, because a worn out hypothesis for the origins of man that leaves more questions than answers to the problem of man’s origin does not contribute to a Christian defense. In all, where D’Souza fails with depth of discussion, he succeeds with a consistent flow in his thought. This book will not persuade a hardened intellectual, but for those who are seeking a consistent appeal to the claims of Christ, the book will offer a start and the correct direction for coming to terms with the God of the universe.

Landscapes

February 12th, 2011

Landscapes—The Digital SLR Expert, by Mackie, Neill, Noton, Wiggett, Worobiec ????

This book is a compilation of advice from five accomplished photographers addressing the issue of nature photography. It is a practical book, and, except for the chapter on black and white photography, was focused on advice for obtaining the shot. Thus, advice about composition, lighting, timing, camera settings, lens usage, and special siruations were at the forefront. Multiple examples of photographic images were given, and it was helpful to know what settings and lenses were being used to obtain the photos. The B&W chapter offered much easy to follow photoshop advice on converting your photos into B&W or duotone specimens. This book was a fun and inspirational read.

The Israel of God

February 12th, 2011

The Israel of God, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by O. Palmer Robertson ?????

This short book addresses the issue of how the Christian should regard the nation of Israel, and what the Scriptures say about who the real Israel may be. The first chapter addresses the theology of “land”, discussing that the land of Israel what we now think of as Palestine as a type of land to come for the Christian.  Robertson then shows clearly that the Scriptures have always defined Israel in a broader sense than just being genetic descendants of Abraham. The next chapters contend with the shift of priesthoods from the Aaronic to the Melchizedechian lines, making sense to me for the first time by explaining the significance of this shift in priesthoods. Next is discussed a theme developed more fully in a previously reviewed book by Robertson on the thme of the wilderness church, that the church in the wilderness has always been largely apostate. Finally, Robertson addresses the kingdom and its King, showing how the nation of Israel had departed from the covenant, and that in replacement, the perfect King, Christ, is installed and now reigns. The status of the current nation of Israel is then returned to. Robertson discusses how the church is the new Israel of God, and that Jews must seek Christ and be permitted into the church in no different of matter than the Gentiles. This book is an easy and delightful read, highly recommended to all, especially those who are ruminanting over the current events of a return of the state of Israel.

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One

January 30th, 2011

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One, by Deke McClelland ????

I’ve been a bit remiss on writing on my blogsite. Every once in a while I feel like I need to offer a personal reflection on what’s going on, but that may be a while from now. There are some trips being planned soon, which I’ll detail when I get back.

It is a bit unusual perhaps seeing a book on InDesign from me. Oddly, typography has a particular attraction for me. I remember the days when I was a typographical apprentice, mostly using hot type. It was at that time, in the early 1970’s, when cold type first arrived. I remember the clunky and always problematic Alphatype machine, which seemed to be broken more often than not. But, it was the forerunner of our current typesetting technology. I suspected back in 1973 that computers would eventually take over the typesetting business, and I was correct. The only use I had for my Journeyman’s card was to work my way through medical school. My former union (International Typographical Union) doesn’t even exist anymore. It was in the early 1980’s that the first real typesetting program came out, called Aldus PageMaker. I purchased it and started playing with it. It was unreal how closely PageMaker simulated how a typographer would approach type. Aldus was since bought out by Adobe, who later morphed PageMaker into InDesign, constantly adding new functionality. This book takes one on a whirlwind tour of InDesign CS4. It is quite amazing all the power that one now has in the program, compared to the first version of PageMaker. McClelland adeptly demonstrates many of the subtle functions of InDesign CS4. His instructions are quite easy to follow, compared to many how-to-do computer books. Each chapter is accompanied by a short video that highlights a particular segment of the upcoming chapter. My only complain about the book is the preoccupation with certain distractions, such as how  to draw figures, that are nice to be able to do in InDesign, but best performed in Illustrator. I would be quite amazed if somebody owned InDesign and did NOT own both Illustrator and Photoshop. Many typesetting topics were glossed over. He could have spent more time on the use of styles, which is one of the strongest utilities in InDesign. His examples included portions of past books that he wrote, or a silly frog article called Professor Shenbop. I would have appreciated a fuller spectrum of types of publications. Deke did have a keen eye for typographical details, and I wished he would have mentioned his thinking more often regarding adjustments of type spacing, etc. In the 1970’s, everything had to be -10% between-letter spacing, so that letters ran on top of each other—thankfully, that is bygone. In summary, Deke does a most capable job of giving one a great summary of what InDesign CS4, and what it can do. For somebody familiar with InDesign, it was still helpful to read, and I felt like I picked up many new tips to make InDesign more useful to me.

The Roots of Obama’s Rage

January 17th, 2011

The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza

I typically don’t read political books, and especially contemporary political books. This hit me as an exception, based on the discussion created over an excerpt from this book published in the Wall Street Journal. So, while I’m aggressively disinterested in learning anything about BHO, this book seemed to be a worthy exception to the rule. The most notable finding while reading the book is the exception writing style of D’Souza. He is very easy to read, very organized in his thinking, and his writing flows easily. He is convincing, as he is also writing as a person of the “3rd world”, having been born in India. D’Souza has a rather compelling argument for understanding how Obama thinks. The thesis of his book denies that he is primarily a socialist or Muslim or militant anti-racist. Rather, he is a determined anti-colonialist, a trait acquired from his father, of whom he had almost no contact. D’Souza builds an effective argument by walking through the life of Obama to show through his history and writings how Obama’s thinking developed into radical anti-colonialism. In support, D’Souza shows how the many decisions that Obama has made in his presidency confirm his anti-colonial sentiments. Obama considers the USA having replaced Britain as the great world colonizer, motivating him to seek ways to destroy American strength and effectiveness through the world as a means of atonement for America’s “sins” of pro-colonization. While not defending British colonialism, D’Souza shows how the most successful countries in the world today were most dominated by Western colonialism in the past, the prime example being India. Contrary, Africa, while complaining the most about colonialism, was the most briefly occupied by foreign powers, and remains the most backward in their ability to develop themselves out of poverty. This book is a contrast to a book that I recently reviewed, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon, where the sins of colonialism are brought out in their worst. Brendon seems to side with the Obama/Africa camp in his heavy emphasis on the problems of colonialism. D’Souza doesn’t deny the evils of colonialism, yet shows how it could be used as a force for good, as is currently occurring in India, China, Indonesia, as well as many other “3rd world” nations that are demonstrating rapid economic gains. D’Souza’s insightful analysis is a worthy read for both the Obama Choir (as D’Souza says, “those hypnotized followers who routinely suspend their rationality when it comes to this political rock star”) as well as those who find Obama as a destructive embarrassment for our nation, to best understand what makes our president tick.

Canon Speedlite System Digital Field Guide

January 17th, 2011

Canon Speedlite System Digital Field Guide, by Brian McLernon ???

I needed to explore how to better use my flash with my Canon camera, and so I purchased this guide. McLernon adeptly covers the functions and settings for the flash and shows how to program the flash system for the utilization multiple simultaneous flashes illuminating the scene, including discussions of what equipment and supplies would be helpful to best utilize a flash system in a creative manner. McLernon discusses well the various lighting scenarios for various portrait and still life scenes. He is much briefer on technical topics, such as the use of flash sytems with macro lenses in technical photography. Looking over McLernon’s photos in this book and on his website, there is much to commend for this usage of innovative flash setups. There were several problems that I noted with the book. 1. McLernon should have given better illustrations of floor setup of the flashes. From a schematic view, where was he placing the flashes, how was he pointing them, how were the flashes configured to obtain the effect that was being illustrated? He describes various portrait lighting modes, such as the Paramount and Rembrandt, but does not tell the reader exactly where flashes are placed to obtain those effects. Thus, the descriptions were near useless. 2. McLernon spends much time discussing basic photography rules and compositional techniques. But, I didn’t purchase the book to learn basic photography rules. As an example, he discusses sports photography, and includes photos that did not use a flash. Perhaps he could have utilized flash/non-flash comparisons of various scenes to demonstrate how flash photography adds a different dimension to the photo, but that is never done. Thus, the book deviates from the objective of simply teaching flash photography. It is still a useful book for understanding the Canon flash system, but bloated with off-topic discussions and lacking in useful information to guide the amateur flash user in the art of flash photography.

Peoples of the Old Testament World

January 9th, 2011

Peoples of the Old Testament World, edited by Hoerth, Mattingly, and Yamauchi ???

This book was published in 1995, and won the Publication Award of the Biblical Archeological Society, so I felt that it would be a great read. I was a bit disappointed. It is perhaps that scholarship tends to be so scant and poor in biblical archeology, that any publication would receive accolades regardless of actual quality of the write. Each chapter was written by different authors, some chapters being excellent, others being quite poor. I thought that the last three chapters, on the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites were actually the best, while the chapters on Egypt and Mesopotamia being quite mediocre. My greatest complaint is the absence of any reasonable discussion regarding the reconciliation of the biblical with the archeological data. Often, the author would consider the biblical record as entirely subservient to the archeological findings, an approach I feel that does violence to God’s word. I’ll quote two examples… page 170, “What can be known about the Canaanite religion derives from two general sources of information: written records and material remains. The Bible is an important source, but the biblical writers naturally present a somewhat biased point of view that deprecated the Canaanite religion…”. Excuse me! I thought that God’s point of view was the only truly unbiased view. I am seeking a Biblical view on how I look at the world, desiring and NOT avoiding a Biblical perspective! Page 219 “…the account of the battle at Ramoth Gilead in I Kings 22 seems problematic as well and should also be considered highly suspect.” I would actually consider the archeological data highly suspect before I consider the Biblical data suspect. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point that many of the authors seem to have a very low opinion of Scripture. IMHO, Scriptures seem to reflect an absence of human bias and error that is found in all writings, including the current newspapers, which need to be read with great care, in order to discern what actually happened in a given event. The authors oftentimes frustrated me. Discussions of Sumer and early Babylon failed to mention the Biblical context, such as describing the world that Abraham came out of. Virtually no thought is given to the Biblical flood, and though flood accounts are mentioned throughout most world literatures, this book treats the flood as a non-event. Should I presume that there is virtually no archeological remains from before the flood? Minimal to no discussion of the timing of the Exodus was given, of the tower of Babel, and other significant Biblical events. I would hope that a better archeological text with a modicum of respect for the Scriptures be forthcoming in the future.

Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku

January 9th, 2011

Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku, by Peter Gordon ???

On occasion, I find that Sudoku is a great way to relax and still use the mind. Naturally, over time, one becomes interested in harder puzzles, and looks for better algorithms for resolving the puzzle when answers don’t seem to be coming. So, I was quite eager to read this book, since it is supposedly written for really smart people. In actual fact, the book did give me a few insights in resolving some of the more challenging puzzles. Unfortunately, the added insights from the book help only in limited circumstances. He also provides a history of Sudoku, which I found to be quite interesting. I did not realize that Sudoku did NOT come from Japan, but was popularized there.

A combination of the techniques that I have developed as well as techniques of this book can resolve many but certainly not all Sudoku puzzles. Gordon admits that there are puzzles that simply are not solvable without guessing. I was grateful that somebody finally admitted that. He also noted that the Sudoku is written poorly if it eventually demands a guess to solve. My technique involves writing a tic-mark whenever a 9-block unit is reduced to just 2 squares of possibility for a given number. Gordon uses a more conventional tic-mark technique, where the tic-marks include all the possibilities for a given square. Gordon’s technique is best used when solving Sudoku on a computer, as I do not use a pencil, and certainly would object to having to write and erase multiple times. Gordon on paper has the result of taking the joy out of Sudoku. An optimal computer Sudoku game program would show all tic-marks, but show when tic-mark numbers are reduced to only 2 per 9-block unit by changing the color of the tic-marks to easily visualize them. Gordon’s advanced techniques are of value only when the puzzles are nearly completely solved, and not as useful early in a puzzle, when most of the unfilled blocks have multiple possibilities. Gordon provides lots of puzzles that demonstrate his techniques, and is easy to read, though certainly not requiring a “Mensa” mentality, which seems to me more an indication of the person’s arrogance rather than their intelligence.

Understanding the Land of the Bible

December 17th, 2010

Understanding the Land of the Bible—A Biblical-Theological Guide ????

This is a short, very easy to read text that describes the land of the Bible in order help one understand biblical history and teaching from a perspective of understanding the lay of the land. Robertson briefly describes the geography of Israel, followed by various topics such as the climate, vegetation, and various cities/populations over the epochs of biblical times. This book is an enjoyable read, as Robertson is able to include in a meaningful fashion how the geology and land of the Old and New Testaments affected the understanding of various historical events that occurred. It has some deficits. It is a little too brief, and one has a hard time grasping the actual terrain without actually being there. While reading the text, I spent about half of the time on Google Maps, trying to get a better grasp of the geography of the area. It could have used more illustrations other than just maps. A brief chapter on the geology of Israel would have been nice in order to understand such geological deformities as the Jordan Valley/Dead Sea. In the vegetation section, it describes various mideast plants, but leaves us wondering what those plants are, such as the Terebinth. A photo, if not a brief description, would have been quite helpful. Many locations are described, but one is left wondering where those locations fit on a modern map of Israel. Where is Shechem, Samaria, etc.? Why is Capernaum no longer in existence? What happened to it? Where does the city of David’s Jerusalem fit into modern Jersusalem? I could go on. The strongest chapter was the last, which describes five ways of viewing the land of Israel. Does the land of Israel belong to the Jews? Will they reoccupy the land some day? Were the crusaders correct in trying to re-conquer the Holy Lands for Christianity? Is it even proper to name the land of the Old and New Testament the “Holy Land”? All of these questions are answered in a most proper fashion. Through all the chapters, Robertson is able to add biblical insights that show how the land of Israel indeed was certainly created specifically as the stage for the appearance of  our Lord. This is a worthy book to read, yet I hope that perhaps a second edition will remedy the deficits mentioned above.

God’s People in the Wilderness

December 8th, 2010

God’s People in the Wilderness; The Church in Hebrews, by O. Palmer Robertson ?????

This is a rather short book, 149 pages, and easy to read in several evenings. Robertson writes in an efficient style without wasted verbiage, yet is not challenging to read. He writes in an academic style, and manifests the art of exegesis of Scriptures at its best. In sum, he is a joy to read. This is my second book that I’ve read by him, and you should be seeing a number of further reviews of this author, as he merits our full attention. Robertson now teaches in Africa at Malawi Bible College, but lives as one of the veritable giants among living theologians today. Robertson is best know for his book “Christ of the Covenants”, showing that the Covenants throughout Scripture are indeed one, though progressively contributing to or fulfilling prior “versions” of the covenant.

The introduction to this text provides the theme. While Christ often referred to the church as the “Kingdom of God”, and Paul referred similarly to the church as the “body of Christ”, these metaphors for the church are never used within Hebrews. Rather, the author of Hebrews develops the likeness of the church as Israel during the time of the Exodus, living in the wilderness. The first chapter develops the thesis of the living church today as being the church in the wilderness. Subsequent chapters note the covenant that binds Israel (the church) in the wilderness, the unity of people within the wilderness sojourn, and the tensions encountered in the wilderness such as the temptation to rebel or the failure to heed the instructions of the law, the worship of the church in the wilderness, and the ultimate goal of an eternal rest of God’s people in the wilderness. Indeed, throughout the book of Hebrews, the theme of the church, like Israel, living in the wilderness is used, and the cautions, admonitions, and exhortations for the church remain the same as God gave the Israelites in the wilderness, until their goal of a rest for God’s people is found. That rest is symbolized by the arrival in the promised land, but represents our final rest in Christ after death. Until then, the tensions and struggles of the wilderness will remain.

Perhaps the best summary of the book might be given by a brief quote from the book. “If the church of today could grasp the eschatological nature of its present pilgrimage, it could be saved from many current disillusionments. Bodily health and material wealth, an abundance of creaturely comforts, should not be the promise held out to believers today. Escape from troubles and troublous times should not be the church’s expectation. To the contrary, the spoiling of material goods along with society’s rejection that leads to a life out the camp should be openly presented as the norm for the disciples of Jesus. At the same time, a simplified philosophy of pie in the sky bye and bye cannot properly represent the Christian’s perspective on the present life. Instead, currently living out life within the inner chamber of God’s Most Holy Place, constantly communing intimately with the three persons of the one true triune God, fellowshipping in daily life and worship with the loving brotherhood, while all the time anticipating the final rest, perfection and realization of consummate hope – these are only a few of the elements that describe the eschatological lifestyle of believers in Jesus as the Christ. As the church of today discovers its true identity as God’s People in the Wilderness, she may find the fullness of life that only the Christ of God can give”.

As an aside, there is a book titled “Truth Triumphant-the Church in the Wilderness” where the church in the wilderness metaphor is used in what a careful observation would show to be a strictly non-biblical usage. In this text by B. Wilkinson, the argument goes that the wilderness church remains a small remnant of the church that has separated from the mainline church to remain Saturday-Sabbath observers and maintain the purity of the “true church”. A reading of Robertson’s text, or a simple reading of Hebrews, would demonstrate the error of using the wilderness church metaphor in the fashion of Wilkinson.

Creation without Compromise

December 5th, 2010

Creation without Compromise, by Donald Crowe ??

This is the second book that I’m reading on creation from a literal 6-day perspective. The book actually started out quite well, and after several chapters, was thinking that this was going to be a 4 or 5 star text. Unfortunately, Donald allowed the text to lapse into various quibbles without defending his stance, as I’ll explain. There is one vital strength to the book which I must not delay to mention. Donald is seriously concerned about maintaining Scripture as our only solid reference point for our thinking. He is concerned about maintaining Scripture as infallible, and the only orientation for our worldview, to which I would agree. He is concerned that we  not read anything into Scripture but that we allow it to speak to us, since it represents God speaking to man. Again, no problem with me.

Donald Crowe is a professor of biblical languages at two very small schools of higher education, belonging to a very small  presbyterian denomination which broke off from main stream presbyterianism, over doctrinal distinctives which were felt to be more vital than Christian unity or other Christian virtues. Several of those distinctives include a sworn allegiance to presuppositional apologetics, post-millenial eschatology, theonomy, and strict adherence to the Westminster confession.

Donald provides a history of evolution/formation of the universe from the Greek and Roman thinkers through the enlightenment. He pauses to defend the chronology of time as offered by Bishop Ussher, placing the moment of creation at about 4000 B.C. He lapses into some minor discussions of the flood, defending a universal flood. He then explores the life and thinking of Charles Darwin, showing how it was necessary for him to reject the Christianity of his youth in order to develop his fantastic account of natural selection. Donald then lapses into a vitriolic attack on Hodge and Warfield at Princeton, while placing Dabney between them as the only true preserver of the truth of creation. At last, 2/3 of the way through the book, one comes to the moment of truth—the exegesis of Genesis 1. Unfortunately, it was limited to 29 pages, and then, mostly quotes are from other texts, such as Kelly’s book on creation, and the overused text from E.J. Young about Genesis 1 not being poetry. The next chapter, consisting of 41 pages, attempts to detail the consequences of a evolutionary worldview. Sadly, this is where I realized I was wasting my time reading the book. I become weary whenever an author discusses Hitler and the Nazis as the best example of the end result of any sort of non-Christian worldview; it is way, way, way overused. Evolution came from England, and Donald could have more easily discussed the evils of Churchill as a man who will burn in the same low rung of hell as Hitler, Stalin and a few other notables of the twentieth century.

Donald loves the term “eisegesis of desperation” which he uses on anybody who disagrees with his interpretation of Scripture. Donald might be accused of übergesis, a word which I coin to mean “to not look at the Scripture at all, but over it”. Donald’s übergesis of Genesis 1 quotes everybody else, but fails to give us arguments based on his own exegesis, all the while quoting his favorite phrase from the Westminster Confession (which he must have memorized before #1 “What is the chief end of man?”) about allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Let me remark on a few examples (of which there are many) where Donald goes astray. On p. 220, he quotes Berthoud, who asks why we would consider it difficult for the creator of the universe to not be able to do it in 6 days?The question gets you nowhere, since we all believe that God could have done it any way that he wished. Donald must explain why God couldn’t have done it instantaneously! Just before this quote, Donald übergeses a quote from James Jordan, who “… does show how it is possible to discover several chiastic literary structures [in Gen 1] without rejecting the historical narrative of six calendar days”. So what? How does that diminish a framework hypothesis? I could go on, but, so many of his “exegetical” statements were taken from Kelley and others, that I have discussed elsewhere.

I read this book hoping it to be a clear Scriptural argument for a young-earth literal 6 consecutive 24-hr creation. It was more like reading Henry Morris, whose writings first persuaded me against an absolute insistence on a young-earth interpretation. I have appreciated Donald’s willingness to give creation an entirely Scriptural defense, yet he failed in that regard. Perhaps the Scriptural text is simply NOT clear enough? We might look at Moses interpreting himself in Ps. 90:1,2 “…before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth or the world, from everlasting to everlasting…” leaves a picture painted by Moses of the antiquity and prolonged process of creating the world. Ps. 104 leaves one the same impression. Even though these verses are poetry, they are also, just like Gen. 1, true truth, true history that must not be übergesed into insignificance as to what they say. Or, take God interpreting God in Job 38 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ..Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … who determined its measurements-surely you know! Or who who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together?” Why didn’t Donald inform God that the morning stars had to wait until day 4? When God speaks, I dare not explain way his statements as simple poetry that can’t be taken literally!

We live with a creational tension that is best described by optical metaphors. When we look at God’s creation, we get a virtual (apparent) image of age, which is probably different from the real image (or age) of when the earth was actually made. The difference will be especially true if God created with apparent age, or if there were factors before the flood which have since caused things to appear older. There is simply no way that science will give us an exact answer as to the age of the earth, but  a complete reading of the whole counsel of God in the entirety of Scripture neither will give us a perfect answer as to the exact age of the universe. I don’t need a perfect answer. We should not do as Donald has done, and use a young earth creation scheme as a proof of orthodoxy.

Creation and Change

November 29th, 2010

Creation and Change, by Douglas Kelly ???

I purchased and read this book at the recommendation of a friend in hopes that I would have a better biblical rationale for a 6 day creation, over that of an old-earth creation.  My comments later will discuss the efficacy at achieving that end. Kelly is a theologian who teaches at Reformed Theological seminary, and is definitely not a scientist, a fact that he does not hide. I review the book chapter by chapter to offer adequate comments.

Chapter one is a simple introduction, stating his goal of developing the scientific and Scriptural necessity for a 6 day creation.

Chapter 2 develops the literary genre of Gen 1-3, arguing against poetry and for pure history as the literary construct in these passages. His main source material for the argument comes from the work of E.J. Young, who adamantly states that there is no poetry in Gen 1-3. The argument posed by Young is not given. I tend to disagree on forming a dichotomy, and feel that Gen. 1 reads very clearly as poetry, yet, as true poetry, and thus also historical. It is both. Kelly argues briefly against the documentary hypothesis, which proposes two accounts of creation, that found in Gen. 1-2.3, and that found in Gen 2.4 and on. I agree with Kelly that the best reading is a single account with Genesis 2 expanding on details in the creation narrative.

Chapter 3 provides an argument for creation ex nihilo, and the argument of intelligent design, as well as an argument for the necessity for a creation from the laws of thermodynamics.

Chapter 4 discusses day 1 of creation. Much of his discussion centers around what might be considered pre-day 1, that is, the account of the Spirit of God moving over the unformed earth, before He creates light.

Chapter 5 is a partial diversion, arguing about the timing of the creation of angels, for which nothing is said in Scripture and thus isn’t worth speculating on. He discusses the gap between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2, mostly countering a theory that supposes the world to have been developed, and then destroyed, after which God begins again to create the earth as we know it. He doesn’t discuss why the literary structure would most easily be read as a gap, especially since he is concerned about the “plain reading” of the verses.

Chapter 6 specifically examines the meaning of the word “day”. He offers a very incomplete argument regarding the entire scriptural usage of the word “day”. In this chapter, he discusses the framework hypothesis, popularized by Meredith Kline, which states that the six days are only a framework for God’s creative activity, and not necessarily a chronological account. He contends that a more “literary” approach dangers on nominalism, which is a strange argument, since such reasoning could be used to argue against just about anything. As an example, an argument against predestination is that it logically leads to fatalism is simply not true. The technical notes at the end of this chapter argue again against the documentary hypothesis. He discusses Augustine’s ambiguous stance on creation and various New Testament quotes, none of which address the young earth vs. old earth controversy.

Chapters 7 and 8 are his plunge into science. In chapter 7, the first argument is for the timing of Adam, which he feels fits the Ussher chronology, and to which I have no serious problems. Unfortunately, this addresses only timing following the seven creation days and nothing more. He then spends much time discussing the theory that the speed of light over time has slowed down, in fact, since the creation 6000 years ago, it is going 5 x 10(11th power) slower, which would give the earth an apparent age of billions of years. This sounds overtly appealing but logically destroys all of Kelly’s argument. He suggests that we reference the 24 hr/day of creation by today’s reference. Under this scheme, the clock which ran ran apparently for 24hrs would now run for millions of years. This explanation creates as many problems as solutions by making time variable and thus meaningless for discussion. Finally, Kelly tortures me in his absence of scientific knowlege in this chapter. He constantly speaks of such things as the “velocity of an electron in its orbit around the proton”, a kickback to the old Bohr theory which nobody including Bohr accepts.

Chapter 8 deals with physical means of determining chronological age. He first argues that all things were created with apparent age, a statement that I couldn’t disagree with. If things were created with apparent age, then science (as he offers) simply could not help us resolve a timing issue. Regarding geological evidence provided by Morris and his comrades, my Christian geology friends attest it to be woefully wrong. Morris does not take account of plate tectonics and other geological explanations as to why things appear the way they are. Kelly argues strongly against uniformitarianism, i.e., that the laws of physics do not change, since the catastrophe of a great flood could explain matters without uniform physical laws. The discussion then turns to dating methods such as carbon-14, showing a moderate inaccuracy in the dating technique as well as reason to doubt the validity of c-14 dating. I have no disagreement with his arguments, even though C-14 dating has also been quite helpful at establishing biblical type dates to many archeological finds, and thus is not totally without value. Much of his criticism stems from the work of Morris and Brown, who tend toward doing poor science at best, and whose arguments in this chapter do not bear worth contending with since are are so poorly thought out. As a brief example, Morris and Brown, as others, contend against uniformity, yet use uniform physical properties to claim calculations of the age of the earth and universe, a questionable enterprise at best.

Chapter 9- This chapter speaks about days 2 &3 of creation, first the separation of waters from heaven and earth, and then the “gathering” of water to create dry land. Finally, vegetation is created. Much of the discussion relates to the creation of vegetation, and the argument against time and chance possibly creating plant life.

Chapter 10 discusses briefly day 4 &5 of creation, i.e., the creation of the sun, moon and stars, and later the creation of fish and fowl. He makes minimal elaboration but tries to explain how plants were made on day 3 and the sun on day 4 – surely plants could survive one day without sun!

Chapter 11 speaks very briefly of the creation of the animal world followed by the creation of man. He leaves many holes in the explanation of the creation narrative. He too briefly touches on theistic evolution, and to my dismay, offers minimal critical arguments against this thinking on a theological basis.

Chapter 12 finishes with a discussion of the Sabbath day and it’s relevance for today as a creation edict. I have no problem with this discussion, though he fails to offer an explanation why the seventh day doesn’t end with the typical closure verbiage of the previous 6 days.

So, did the book persuade me against old earthism as distinctly an error in the interpretation of Genesis 1? Unfortunately, his arguments relied heavily on such people as Henry Morris, who, more than any other writer, persuaded me against a solid 6 day creation scheme because of his sloppy thinking and writing. There were stylistic issues that I had with Kelly. I don’t like when somebody overuses superlatives, such as “Prof. X wisely reminds us…”, “distinguished Christian exegete XX”, “crisply states”, etc. Kelly repeats often, and could have edited the book down a bit. Kelly’s exposition of Hebrew grammar sometimes is too harsh and determinative. As an example, he discusses Gen 1:26 ” Let us make man…” arguing that the pleural for God is a first argument of a trinitarian God. Contrary, Waltke (whom I don’t always agree with) takes a much more cautious approach, but offers adequate explanation as to how he comes to a certain conclusion.

In summary, Kelly does a poor job of arguing for a young earth. He fails mostly in that he should have given a better theological development for a young earth. Thus, I remain undecided yet between old and young earth explanations for creation.  I don’t believe it humanly possible to scientifically prove one way or another, since things could have been created with age. There remains the question as to whether old-earthism does violence to Scripture, which I remain unconvinced by Kelly’s arguments.

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

November 4th, 2010

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997, by Piers Brendon ????

This book is  monumental, 662 rather thick pages. It could not be read quickly. A very compelling read, the book was difficult to put down. Brendon starts the fall of the Empire at the time of the loss of the American colonies. Brendon then details the rise and fall of the British slave trade, the early attempts at colonization of India, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Further, he speaks of the spread of empire through the Far East and Afghanistan, Africa, and then the troubles with Ireland and the Boer War in South Africa. The First world war was detailed as the first truly significant decline of the British rule of the world, though they did acquire holdings in the Mid-east, including Egypt and Cyprus. The second world war seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, with which India, then Ceylon, Myanmar, Signapore and other smaller entities rebelled and were able to obtain freedom from England. Brendon walks through the loss of Israel, the Suez Canal debacle, and Aden loss. The 1960’s showed British attempts to stabilize their hold on Africa, only to see Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria, Kenya, Rhodesia and the other African republics peel off. Finally, the loss of holdings in the West Indies and Cyprus, the comical attempt to show strength in holding a worthless set of islands off of Argentina (the Falklands), and lastly the loss of Hong Kong to China in 1997 left England with only a few insignificant rocks and islands scattered throughout the world.

Brendon writes in style that is mostly ad hominem. He doesn’t give you straight history, and often, if unfamiliar with any particular history, one would need to look elsewhere to find details of the events that he is discussing. Instead, Brendon will linger at length at what various politicians, generals, and other leaders may have said at the time of the historical event. It is more a history behind the closed doors, or a history that you would experience on the streets. This is both good and bad, since Brendon tends to dwell on the most foppish remarks made that perhaps don’t always reflect true feelings or intentions. Several Amazon.com reviewers gave the book very low scores with the complaint that it has a vile bias against empire building. That is certainly true. Most histories that you read of the British Empire tend to extol the virtues and blessings that the British bestowed on forcefully occupied populations. If one wished to purely look for the good that came out of something, one  could argue the virtues of Napoleon since he brought a liberal rule of law to many lands, and the goodness of Hitler since he gave Europe the gift of the Autobahn. I appreciate Brendon because he gives one balance in thinking about the history of the British Empire, even though it is biased heavily against British rule over half the world. Brendon’s terrible biases become most apparent in his interpretations of modern history. He has a terrible dislike for Margaret Thatcher and fails to say any good about her, even though she was following the general wish of most Britons. Even still, forget or sweep under the rug the abominations and atrocities performed by Her Majesties Service in the colonies, such as total and complete mass genocide in Tasmania, forced opium sales in China, brutal slaughters of major portions of the population in the Boer wars as well as other colonies, tyrannical forced rule in India, Ceylon, Burma, Kenya and many other African countries, arrogant racial snobbery towards blacks, Indians, and yellow folk suggesting that European (British) whites were a master race, and the absolute ineptitude of many military enterprises such as in Gallipoli and the Falklands.

By the time one has read all 662 pages of this book, it should be very clear that the Brits are intolerably arrogant, profoundly hypocritical, brutally racist, almost making Stalin, Hitler and Mao look like school children in the art of vice. Yet, I see many Americans possessing this arrogant attitude towards the rest of the world, suggesting that the problem runs deeper than just the British thought pattern. With its problems and limitations, I would still highly recommend this book as a worthy read, even if just to get one thinking about how certain foreign policies tend to create messes that will be around for centuries to come.

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology

October 15th, 2010

Systematic Theology, new Combined Edition, by Louis Berkhof ?????

I had to read portions of Berkhof’s Systematic Theology with a class that I took from JI Packer. The other systematic theology text was Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which had been reviewed previously. Packer contended that Berkhof indeed was the best available systematic theology text, though he says “there is no God in Berkhof”. Since I’ve read Grudem cover to cover, I felt it was now time to do the same with Berkhof, using the combined edition that includes the discussion of the possibility and legitimacy of systematic theology, arguing in defense of the text of Scripture itself. Certainly, both Berkhof and Grudem have their strengths and weaknesses, but I preferred Berkhof over Grudem in most aspects. Yet, there are problems with Berkhof that I would briefly mention.

  1. Many topics are missing, including
    1. Development of the theology of the Holy Spirit. He has a very short section on the Holy Spirit in discussing the topic of soteriology.
    2. Discussion of pertinent aspects of the history of certain doctrines, such as the development of the theology of the trinity, and the Christology controversies
    3. Ethics is an aspect of systematic theology yet is completely missing.
  2. Berkhof spends much time in discussing certain aspects of science and theology, yet is completely outdated. As one example among many, he mentions his continued belief in the ether theory.
  3. Berkhof often belabors topics without reasonable scriptural clarity, leaving a bit of a muddle. One topic was a lengthy discussion of the covenants, which I believe he could have done much better at. His discussion of paedobaptism is ponderous at 10 pages, not well referenced scripturally, and doesn’t accomplish much. It would have been better for him to defer to scriptural silence and leave the practice to best interpretation of what one feels the scripture is saying.

In spite of the above complaints, Berkhof remains an extremely readable text, most conforming to how I see the scriptures. His text remains publicly as the best Reformed theology text available, and is the standard that all subsequent systematic theology texts will have to rise to.

The Addition of the Introductory Volume to the text was a very appropriate addition and well worth reading. In it, Berkhof argues for the rationality for Scripture in opposition of the new liberalism. I had a very strong feeling as though I was reading Francis Schaeffer. I am quite sure that it was from Berkhof that Schaeffer (and VanTil) received their greatest arguments in their apologetic structure for Scripture. Without hesitation, I contend that it would be of value for any and every serious minded Christian in today’s world to take time at some point in their life to work their way through Berkhof. It will be worth the time and most rewarding.

Feynman Trilogy

August 30th, 2010

Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman ????

This, and the subsequent two books, are actually not a trilogy, though they seem to go together, in providing a layman’s read for modern physics. Feynman has written a number of other popular-read books. In this book, Feynman, the noted Nobel-prize winning American physicist, includes six lectures that he gave at Caltech to explain fundamental physics to non-scientific types. While these lectures are very rudimentary, they exhibit the sheer brilliance of Feynman, who has the ability to make those principles that one strained over in college physics seem quite simple. This book is a fun read for both the scientifically literate, and those who are otherwise.

Six Not So Easy pieces, by Richard Feynman ????

Obviously, this is a continuation of the book reviewed above. This time, Feynman attempts the nobler task of explaining Einsteinian physics to laymen. He mostly succeeds, and even able to offer a rationale behind such formula as E=mc2. There are some formulae that he fears not tackle how they were derived, such as the Lorenz transformation. This book is a natural continuation of his previous text, and a fun read.

QED, by Richard Feynman ????

QED is what made Feynman a Nobel prize winner, in that he was able to tackle one of the dilemmas of quantum mechanics, that of applying quantum mechanics to electricity, etc., thus quantum electrodynamics. Feynman makes one thing perfectly clear, and that is that ultimately, he has no clue as to really understanding the nature of quantum physics. Quantum physics doesn’t make sense, but it seems to give the correct numbers to most, but not all, calculations. It provides only a model, and as we learn more, even more confusing data seems to grab our interest, such as all the new atomic particles that continue to be discovered. Feynman diagrams provide a rough visual experience as to how photons and electrons interact, though it also demands such explanations like time going backwards. I won’t hold my breath too much on the next installment of physics explanations. This was a fun though somewhat bizarre book to read, and, together with the other two books above, helps a non-physicist see where we’re at in the grand world of physics.

Day of Reckoning

July 26th, 2010

Pat Buchanan, Day of Reckoning, 26JUL2010 ?????

Buchanan, in his inimitable style, discusses the many things on his mind that he feels is wrong with America. His sweep of subjects is quite large, covering the destructive ideology of multiculturalism and racism, the loss of a public morality, our inability to develop a clear policy toward immigrants that supports American interests, the serious trade imbalance in the name of “free markets”, the loss of America’s industrial base, American imperialism throughout the world, with disastrous consequences on our friends and dose who are not our enemies, specific foreign policy blunders also being mentioned, from our recent treatment of Russia and Iran, all attesting to a direction that very well will lead to the downfall of the USA. This book is a valuable book for those who regard Ameica as home, and who choose not to expatriate. Highly recommended and an easy read.

The End of Christianity

July 20th, 2010

The End of Christianity, by Willian Dembski ???

The main title of this book is a bit deceptive, in that it fails to describe the nature of what the book is about. Indeed, the subtitle is a better explanation, in that it is Dembski’s attempt at a theodicy, that is, an explanation as to why there is evil in the world. Dembski is best known for his work in intelligent design, and has proven himself quite capable as a thinker in that regard. Regarding his theological ventures, he proves less adept. Dembski develops a rather rigid form of old-earth creationism in order to develop his theodicy thesis, though he admits that his theodicy would work regardless of whether one was old-earth or young-earth. Thus, it is strange that Dembski spends so much time arguing for an entirely evolutionary scheme to the “creation” of man, the final transformation of man from animal to human happening by God creating a garden in which two hominids (Adam and Eve)  enter and thus become human, after which they promptly sin. To explain death and evil before the garden of Eden and the fall, Dembski evokes the possibility of retroactive effects of the fall, acting on the created world long before the fall had ever taken place. To defend his position, Dembski develops at length the comparison of chronological and kairological time, chronological time being literal time as one would observe on a clock, and kairological time being logical time, time that occurs in the thought process that exists outside of clock-time.  This explains the whole of Genesis 1-11, in that no attempt is being made to demonstrate a scientific view of how the world and first civilizations were brought about. Unfortunately, Dembski’s approach is easily generalized to suggest a logical fuzziness to any of the factual statements of Scripture. I tend towards old-earth creationism, but shudder when I see what Dembski wishes to do with old-earthism to accommodate science. Eventually, God must stick his finger into the world somewhere, whether it be the garden of Eden, or in simply making a man along the models of prior biological entities that he has previously created. Worst, Dembski never really accomplishes an effective theodicy of explaining why God would allow evil, save for answers already given by theologians, that is, that in some way, a greater good would be seen coming out of the evil that exists. Better theodicy works exist. I reviewed one recently (Paul Helm, The Providence of God) that was superlative save for the difficulty in following the ramifications of Helm’s thinking. The End of Christianity ultimately does nothing but contribute to the confusion of our existence. It is an easy read, and thoughtful read, though not a terribly exciting or informative read.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

June 26th, 2010

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, by DA Carson ???

This is actually a combination of two books, the first being a treatise on the sermon on the mount, and the second “Jesus Confrontation with the World” on Matt. 8-10. The latter were derived from sermons that DA Carson preached early on in his life, and the former is a exposition that we also wrote many years ago, though in a sermon type format. It is Carson in the “easy-read” mode, speaking in admonitions and encouragement towards a full Christian life. Carson is repetitive with other writings of his, and doesn’t offer critical insights that one is accustomed to in his more academic writings. This is a book that offers a good read of a “devotional” type.

Practical Religion

June 24th, 2010

Practical Religion, by J.C. Ryle ????

This book is a series of 21 papers written by J.C. Ryle, former bishop of Liverpool, on aspects of practical Christianity. In it J.C. Ryle accounts the necessity for regular Bible reading, prayer, and other aspects of life which maintain the health of a Christian person. There was a moderate amount of repetition of examples, and the papers were more like sermons than expository articles. They provided good reading for self-examination and contemplation on how to live the Christian life in a better manner, focusing on the things that are most important in life.

Above All Earthly Pow’rs

June 19th, 2010

Above All Earthly Powers, Christ in a Postmodern World, by David Wells ?????

This is the fourth in a series of books written by David Wells on the status of the church in the last 20 years. In all of the books in the series, he offers insights into how the church has drifted away from its doctrinal moorings and yielded to the Zeitgeist of pluralism, commercialism, and materialism, while turning the focus of worship from God to self. In this book, Wells takes a particular aim at the influences of postmodern thinking on the nature and behavior of church. In the first several chapters, he defines postmodernism. I tend to agree with his assessment that postmodernism is really just another form of modernism, a form which has run the experiment of the Enlightenment to its bitter deadly end. He then addresses how America has gone from a uniform white European Protestant community to being a multicultural hodgepodge, and how that has affected the way we think and act, as well as the way we “do” church. The next chapter addresses how Americans have actually become much more spiritual across the board, yet much less religious. This is a result of a lost basis for religion, especially the grounding of the authority of Scripture, while enhancing the authority of the inner self, and how one feels about god. Next, Wells discusses how the entirety of “meaning” has found a new home. Whereas the older philosophers such as Sartre and Camus spoke of our existential despair, the new think is almost a sense of giddy irrational joy regarding our meaninglessness. Unfortunately, the Christian response has been sociological rather than soteriological, i.e., has tried to answer man’s quest for meaning in terms of help groups rather than giving the gospel. Wells brushes with how the new thinking about Paul has contributed to the evangelical problem by diminishing the work of Christ on the cross. Next, Wells speaks of how our current age has lost its “centeredness”, attacking the openness theology of Clark Pinnock as contributing to the meaninglessness of events in the world where even God has lost control. Wells does a devastating rebuke of openness thinking. In the end, Wells ends with his characteristic theme of showing how all of these postmodern thought patterns has led to the behaviors that we now see in the church, including the Willow Creek phenomenon, church marketing, and the church as the focus of every sort of commercial enterprise. While Willow Creek style pastors have a true desire to help the church to grow, they have sacrificed truth in the process. Thus, they ultimately have nothing to offer the post-modern man, longing for true truth. Church must “preserve its cognitive identity and distinction from the culture” in order to truly flourish. Christians are not to incorporate into or conquer post-modernity, but rather stand for Christ, as post-modernity will die as all other philosophies have died. This book is a must-read for Christians who truly wish to make an impact on post-modern man.

By Faith Alone

June 18th, 2010

By Faith Alone, by Gary L.W. Johnson, and Guy P. Waters ??

I did not completely read this book, and skimmed many sections. It is edited texts of a number of talks given by Presbyterian Reformed people, mostly addressing issues of the new thinking on Paul, as now promoted by N.T. Wright, and on the Auburn Theology. The new thinking sections have been more clearly and better handled by others, such as DA Carson, and so little new is offered. The Auburn Theology issue is the creation of a straw man, attacking was they view as a Romish deviation of theology, as first suggested by John Murray from Westminster Theological Seminary. Their complaint is the tendency of Auburn Theology, that is, Federal Vision, to speak of a single Covenant, rather than multiple covenants that God has given to man. They offer no clarification as to exactly what they are contesting except for perhaps the different terminology being used, and I am left bewildered as to exactly where they view the problem with Federal Vision to be. Essentially, they resemble a group of academic Presbyterians with a severe case of constipation. Unfortunately, such name calling has led to potential divisions within the PCA denomination, and we are none the better for the sloppy theology that this book provides. They offer more name calling rather than arguments to defend or contest the statements of the Federal Theologians. Please understand, while I do not support theological orientation of federal theology, it is mostly because I am having such a hard time defining what is exactly is, and how it is so seriously deviant from covenantal reformed theology to lead to such rancor and discussion. My advice is to not waste your time with this book.

The Providence of God

June 15th, 2010

The Providence of God, by Paul Helm ?????

This was a hard book to rate, in that it was not an easy book to read. A few sections had to be re-read a number of times, and still pretty much passed me by. I have reviewed other books in the past by Paul Helm. Dr. Helm is noted as one of the premier conservative Christian philosophers alive today, and currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. In this text, Helm tackles the hardest of all possible problems, the issue of God’s providence. This book, as I understand from other sources, was written as the philosophical response to Openness theology. What does “providence” mean? How does providence fit philosophically with the thought of human freedom, with the idea of petitionary or intercessory prayer, with the idea of human responsibility, or with the idea of the existence of evil. Helm efficiently shows how all of these concepts relate to the same issue. He shows that if one believes in a situation where God is not knowledgeable of the precise future, or has not determined all future decisions that one will make (God taking “risks”), it does not lend to easier solutions to the problem of evil, the problem of freedom, etc., than if one believes in a God who ordains all that will come to pass (God in a no-risk situation). So, Helm concludes with a strong “Calvinistic” approach to free-will and providence, though remaining very gracious to disagreement. In the end, Helm does a laudable job at showing the consistency of one’s free will and a God who has determined all that is, was, and will be. Helm shows that not only is a no-risk God the most logical (as well as Scriptural) conclusion, but also the conclusion that offers the Christian the greatest comfort, knowing that the future is not in our hands, but in His. Thus, he provides a rational basis for life and obedience as a Christian person, not in “immobility” of feeling that there is no point in acting, since the fates will be what they will be, but, since we remain ignorant of the future, living out our lives as responsible moral agents under a God who will make all things, evil or good, work out for our best. This is not a book for everybody. Perhaps one needs to possess a certain insanity to even think about the philosophical implications of providence. If your are one of those tormented souls that troubles over philosophical details of good, evil, determinism, and the fates in a theistic context, this is a must read book.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

June 12th, 2010

Praying the Lord’s Prayer, by JI Packer ?????

I’ve always enjoyed reading Packer, an have a special affinity for his writings since I took a class from him. He writes exactly the way he speaks, and so one can read him and hear him talking to you. Packer has a distinction of being not only one of the most brilliant people alive today, but also a most personable character. This short book must not be read in a single setting, though it could be easily read in 1-2 hours. Packer provides a gold mine, with every sentence and phrase loaded with gems to ponder. He skillfully brings new life to the prayer we have recited so often at home and at church, and yet really never considered the implications of what we are saying. From the rich manifestations of what it means to have God as our father, and how the prayer is more fitting of a child speaking to a parent, there remain glorious logical products of that relationship that few could ever boast. This book is a must read- but read it slowly, no speed reading, and let Packer help you grasp the Lord’s prayer in a new and fresh way.

Scandalous

June 11th, 2010

Scandalous-The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by DA Carson ????

This book is the product of five sermons given by DA Carson to the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It is a set of loosely organized sermons oriented around the cross, with a focus on the events that occurred at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, including Jesus being mocked, the raising of Lazarus, and the story of Thomas. It also had a sermon on Rom. 3 related to the atonement, as well as a sermon from Revelation about Christ reigning through the cross. I liked this book because Carson provided some fresh insights into the meaning of Christ’s death, spoken in a manner that is not just a theological rehash. Carson tends to always provide practical advise on living based on the theology of the cross. I do find reading sermons to be a bit tedious, since they would be better off listened to, yet Carson manages to hold one’s attention in a delightful fashion, making the book a worthy read.

How Evil Works

June 11th, 2010

How Evil Works, by David Kupelian ?????

This book is the sequel to The Marketing of Evil, also recently reviewed by me, by the same author and published by World Net Daily Books. Kupelian systematically attacks the many cultural fixtures of our society, showing how their abandonment of the Christian ethic and ethos has led to the current morass that we are in. Chapters include discussions as to why and how politicians lie to us, the rise of sexual anarchy, the grip of terrorism, the cult of celebrity and Hollywoodism, the rash of “mental illness”, the turn to vulgar religions, feminism and its destructiveness, and finally the acceptance of hate in society. Kupelian not only discusses how these traits are seated in our society, but also suggests a solution, which is returning to the Christian base from whence we came. His is a harsh but accurate reflection on our society, which is typically not found in modern print as well thought out as Kupelian has done in this book. Thus, a book highly to be recommended.

Telling the Truth

June 8th, 2010

Telling the Truth, edited by DA Carson ???

This book is written as a compendium of a series of talks given as conference held at Trinity Theological Seminary in Chicagoland. The subtitle suggests that the focus in on addressing the gospel to the post-modern world. The first few talks help to define in a very cursory fashion the nature of post-modernism, with a focus on the writings of Richard Rorty and Michel Fouchalt. Subsequent chapters deal with the issues of evangelism in the community. The book does a poor job of developing the thought structures of post-modernism. The development of evangelism specifically to the post-modern mindset was really not discussed well. The use of various post-modern terms, such as “metanarrative” was used in just about every chapter to make it post-modern oriented, though dealing with a post-modernist seemed similar to dealing the pre-modernist or modernist, i.e., speaking and living the truth. The book is written almost entirely by either academic or college evangelists, such as Campus Crusade or Inter-varsity personnel, with emphasis on how to reach students. It leaves the assumption that students and academics are the only post-modernists, and not necessarily the man on the street. The book thrives on the discussion of techniques, failing a Reformed perspective of God’s work in evangelism. Several chapters simply should have been omitted completely, such as a chapter emphasizing Christ-centeredness in all Biblical reading which does violence to best Biblical hermeneutic. Worst, as mentioned before, the lengthy advice given for evangelism is true regardless of whether one is witnessing Christ to a post-modern, modern, pre-modern or normal person. There was no connect on how to specifically engage a person devoid of truth concepts, outside of the normal engagement of the person. I don’t wish to be too hard on this book. There was much good thought and discussion about engaging the culture which I found relevant to my own personal life. I think that Francis Schaeffer, though writing 30-40 years ago but definitely not dated, offers still the best advice about the engagement of culture. A Teaching Company series by Louis Markos is excellent at exploring (in the last three lectures) the modernist and post-modernist mindset from a Christian perspective.With Markos, the Modernist is a person who rejects the ability to communicate or know truth but will never deny the existence of truth. With post-modernism, communication may occur, though you are communicating nothing relevant, since truth simply does not exist. Yet, as Schaeffer insists, the modernist (and post-modernist) cannot live by his own assumptions. Penetrating those inconsistencies in a clear and loving way was not discussed in this book. We live in a society which one would love to escape. The moral turpitude, the despair and mindlessness of even the academic elites, the wonton materialism and narcissistic hedonism which governs our culture makes it challenging to survive let alone thrive. Yet, God calls us, and this book challenges each of us to creativity at the task of preaching the gospel in an intelligent yet winsome fashion. Lord help us.

An Inconvenient Book

June 7th, 2010

An Inconvenient Book, by Glenn Beck ???

This is Glenn Beck’s latest publication, and hopefully his last. Glenn Beck has a lot about him to like. He tends toward economic conservatism, as well as moral conservatism. He is quite humorous in his presentation, though also profoundly arrogant. He is not a person that I would wish to engage with in a discussion, as I don’t find him a person capable of thinking out challenging issues. Yet this would also be true of most liberals. I’ve read several of Al Franken’s books in the past, and found them to be remarkable brain-dead thoughtless drivel, which is why Europeans, as well as American elites, devoured Al Franken. The only saving grace of Glenn Beck is his ability to back his statements with statistics and facts that support his arguments. Beck is sometimes quite nauseating in his narcissism, frequently modeling himself as the Phoenix of debauchery who rose from the dead to true wisdom, though found in an equally befuddling form of untruth, that of Mormonism, the co-religion of the likes of Reid and Romney. It is most annoying when he keeps talking about his marriage as eternal, not that I dislike it as a notion, save that it is entirely unscriptural.  Until Beck finds the true truth, his moral and economic dicta will only take us from a liberal cesspool to a conservative cesspool. I wish better for the US of A.

Layers

June 1st, 2010

Layers, by Matt Kloskowski ?????

I thought at first that I would be disappointed with this book, but first impressions proved to be wrong. It is a further book on Photoshop technique, intermediate level. I does not come with a CD of practice material, but you are able to download the images off of the web, which helps keep the cost of the book down. Matt has a slightly different style from other Photoshop instructors, in that he tends toward a more casual approach, encouraging you to play and try out your own techniques. His tendency is toward simplicity rather than complexity. He doesn’t waste much time insisting that you label every layer, or create 50 layers for a single image. His teaching technique makes each step quite easy to remember. His projects are interesting enough that one could imagine using the Photoshop tricks for personal photos. All in all, an excellent text for the intermediate Photoshopper.

Photoshop CS4 Channels and Masks

May 1st, 2010

Photoshop CS4 Channels and Masks One-on-one, by Deke McClelland ????

This is just another Photoshop book that I’ve read in the last 6-12 months. I have one or two more to go. This text taught me a number of things, including functionality and routines in Photoshop that I had absolutely no clue about in the past, like the “calculations” instruction for merging several channels to make a better mask. There are movies that accompany each lesson, but they only somewhat approximate the actual lesson. Deke is very careful to be exact in his instructions, but doesn’t always elaborate why you are doing a certain function in a manner that makes perfect clarity for when you need to do such functions independent of the instruction book. A number of things became quite clear on this reading. 1) Photoshop is far more complicated than I originally thought, and it will take years to master exactly what it could do for you. 2) Experience will eventually be the best teacher, and one needs to play with the program to glean all the possibilities of what you could do to alter or improve a photo. 3) There is always more than one way to accomplish a given task, and every book details a completely different style of accomplishing the same thing. Ultimately, one needs to develop their own style. 4) Many routines are discovered by chance and then shared. One should not imagine that any given photo alteration is intuitive. Rather, one needs to keep a number of “reference” books around when learning photoshop and use those books to walk through techniques. 5) Videos are nice, but the text ultimately teaches you how to do things. It would be nice to note a end product, attempt it first yourself, and then walk through how the teacher reaches the end-product. Unfortunately, most photoshop instruction books are not written that way. All in all, this is not the best photoshop book that I’ve read, but still is a book worth having on the shelves.

The Gagging of God

April 26th, 2010

The Gagging of God, by D.A. Carson ?????

This book has been around a while, but still remains timely. Written by D.A. Carson as his magnum opus, it engages the themes to pluralism, tolerance, and the disappearance of the acceptance of true truth in our society. Such loss of respect for truth and ability to communicate that truth has sunk into all aspects of society including the thinking and behavior of Christians. Carson is a tour de force who tackles pluralism in a clear but uncompromising fashion. The book is broken up into four sections. The first details how pluralism came about, discussing the history of thought in regard to matters of epistemology and linguistics, ending in the modern despair that truth is unknowable and so that all truth, contradictory or not, is true. The next section covers how this secular thinking has pervaded the Christian community. Carson covers how pluralism has affected the Christian community, and what it has done for our thinking on basic doctrines and ethics in the church. The third section attempts to detail Christian responses to living in a society soaked in pluralistic thinking, and the last section details particular themes, such as speaking the truth in matters of evangelism, and doctrinal issues, such as loss of the doctrine of hell.

Carson began life as a chemist, and then went to divinity school, studying in England for a period of time. I have a deep appreciation for the way he thinks, in that he’ll take a particular matter, and then slowly whittle away at it, giving lists of 5-10 reflections on the subject, leaving no stone unturned. His thought processes are exactly how I wish all theologians would write. He is not an easy person to read. I’m sure that if I re-read the book, I would see much that I missed the first time around. One cannot read this book quickly and expect to leave understanding all that Carson has to offer. So, I recommend this book to anybody who has the patience and time to read it. Hopefully, you will be seeing yet more Carson book reviews coming on this blogsite.

The Cello Suites

March 20th, 2010

The Cello Suites – J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a baroque masterpiece, by Eric Siblin ????

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Fred Leitz, since he knew that I enjoyed Bach. It was an excellent read. This is the first book of Siblin, who writes music critics for a major Canadian magazine. The book is the entwined stories of J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, as well as Siblin’s own investigation as to the origin of the cello suites. It is quite cleverly written to hold the reader’s attention, while bringing to mind the lives of two great musicians. My greatest criticism of the book is the unduly high regard given to Casals, who, while he single-handedly resurrected and popularized the Bach Cello Suites, also was a radical socialist revolutionary with a not-so-desireable lifestyle. In contrast, J.S. Bach lived an impeccable, though also somewhat revolutionary lifestyle, fighting more for advanced artistic expression than for any political-social agenda. I would highly recommend this book to any music lover.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Layers Book

March 16th, 2010

The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Layers Book, by Richard Lynch ????

This is an excellent though advanced text on Photoshopping. I remain with the continued quest to produce a perfect photograph. Unfortunately, not only must one have the right tools, they also need the skills. Regardless of one’s skill with Photoshop, obtaining a properly taken photo in the field remains the most important, and requires the most practice. Unfortunately, one often wishes to obtain a photograph at a given setting, when the light isn’t right, and it simply isn’t possible to remedy the photographic technique to make a classy photograph. Unfortunately, it is those situations where Photoshop isn’t able make up for field problems in order to help one get a prize-winning photo. Yet, the quest remains. Lynch takes Photoshop to another level. Having now read several intermediate to advanced technique books on Photoshop, I’m realizing the multiplicity of techniques to obtain a quality product. Lynch’s system uses multiple baby-steps, each step forming another layer in the photo-editing process. This can become quite cumbersome, but allows a person to safely retreat when the outcome seems to be going the wrong direction. Sometimes, the steps are quite numerous in order to achieve a given effect, yet he repeats the technique enough times that one figures out what he is doing, and is able to duplicate his process. This is not an easy book, and would be best read more than once to grasp the techniques he is pointing out. Sometimes, he carries editing a little too far, in that much of his portrait works ends up slightly artificial, yet, it is probably the technique of most magazines. I had wishes for more landscape and other forms of photography in the book. All in all, this is a valuable book to grasp. My last few Photoshop books will be a Channels and Masks book, and then yet one more Layers text. Hopefully, my photographic output will improve through all this effort.

Photoshop CS4 Digital Classroom

February 25th, 2010

Photoshop CS4 Digital Classroom, by Jennifer Smith and the AGI Creative Team ????

Having worked through the similar textbook on Dreamweaver and liking it, I decided to run through this text, hoping to improve my Photoshop skills. I certainly learned a few things from the book, in that no instruction book could be completely comprehensive, unless it was a meter thick. This text had a companion DVD which provided the images for the projects in the book, as well as videos by J Smith explaining portions of the text. The book was simply too simple for me, and my only benefit was to learn some functionality, like 3D rendering, which is usually not included in regular photographer’s texts on Photoshop, since they are interested in the image, and not in the fact that you can paste your beautiful scene from Yosemite on a pop can. All the same, the text is simple, easy to follow, so I could not downgrade the stars for the book’s simplicity. It is not as comprehensive as Photoshop Classroom in a Book, and the presentation is a little sloppier, but it has a very easy style to it, making it a reasonable first textbook for the total novice on Photoshop.

Photoshop CS4 Essential Skills

February 23rd, 2010

Photoshop CS4 Essential Skills, by Mark Galer and Philip Andrews ?????

This is probably one of the best skills textbooks that I’ve read so far on Photoshop, covering a broad range of topics from photo touch-up, montages, landscape photography, portrait photography, panoramas, and the works. There were some topics not covered, such as 3D work, but the text did not intend to be a comprehensive coverage of all that photoshop offers. The book is arranged to be read with an accompanying DVD, containing many movie files, as well and sample photographs that will be used in projects in the book. Typically, a set of movies would first be watched, and then the projects shown in the movies worked through in the accompanying textbook. The authors assume that the reader is learning, and thus make short cut descriptions of how to do things, as you get deeper into the text. The example projects provided are very sensible images that any amateur photographer would usually be working with. Through the use of repetition and ever expanding skills, you cover most of the standard functionality of photoshop. The text is very good at showing how something may be done in a number of ways, and also explaining the various choices that Photoshop offers. This is not a beginners book, but a very good transition for someone who has read a beginning book on Photoshop, or at least is familiar with the functionality and various uses of layers and channels, etc. I would compare this to the text Photoshop Classroom in a Book, which is produced by Adobe, and is excellent for taking a raw beginner through all the things that Photoshop can do. Unfortunately, it will not teach one how to use Photoshop, as you spend your time following detailed instructions, but rarely ever told why you are doing it. This book is highly recommended as a “next-step” text for the Photoshop photographer.

Showing the Spirit

February 6th, 2010

Showing the SpiritShowing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 by D.A. Carson ????

This book was read in response to some recent encounters with charismatics/Pentecostals. It is a fairly technical text, and thus not an easy read. DA Carson shows a perfect example of putting aside personal prejudices and preconceptions in dealing with a hot topic of the nature of charismatic gifts. He does a step-by-step analysis of the I Corinthian text, and then concludes his personal reflections from the text as to how he conceives and deals with those of the charismatic persuasion. The technical analysis of the text is a total delight, Carson doing what I wish every biblical commentator would do, which is to offer the text an exploration a multiple possible interpretations that currently exist, and then, using both the text, as well as other texts found elsewhere, as well as Greek/Hebrew textual analysis, to derive the best interpretation or possible interpretations of the given text. Oftentimes, Carson doesn’t conclude in a given camp of thought. He refuses to be a cessationist regarding miracles. He also refuses to accept that tongues have necessarily ceased. Yet, at the same time, as a non-charismatic, he refuses to allow tongues, prophecy or other “gifts” to be a defining feature of heightened spirituality, or normative expression of Christian faith. He also refuses to allow these gifts to serve as a divisive influence in a church, allowing that the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing may not entirely have ceased from the Christian faith. He chooses to explore both the excesses as well as virtues of the Charismatic movement, ending his analysis with an appeal to non-Charismatics to at least look at what the Charismatics have going right with them. To this, I believe that Dr. JI Packer would also agree.

Conservatives are from Mars, Liberals are from San Francisco

February 3rd, 2010

Conservatives are from Mars, Liberals are from San Francisco, by Burt Prelutsky ????

This is a set of 101 short commentary pieces written by Burt Prelutsky. Burt worked in the television industry, writing mostly sit-com scripts for tv serials. He grew up in a Jewish liberal family, and eventually migrated to the conservative stance. His writings are quite comical, and would be enjoyed by folk of all political stripe. His favorite theses are the arrogance of liberals, the hypocrisy of liberals, and the multitude of Prelutsky’s petty peves. While I often agree, and often disagree with Prelutsky, he doesn’t have the sharp, raspy style of Ann Coulter or Michael Savage, and thus is easier and more enjoyable to read. He usually uses the same slapstick humor that he might have been accustomed to while writing television scripts. It’s a fun read, not intended to be read at single settings.

Dreamweaver CS4 Digital Classroom

January 26th, 2010

Dreamweaver CS4 Digital Classroom, by Jeremy Osborn, etc. ?????

This is one of the better books I’ve read recently on software utilization. Dreamweaver is a quite powerful program, that allows one to make webpages, built in are multiple functions that would allow one to make a fairly professional appearing page. This book offers a cursory review of the functionality of DW CS4, while allowing one to practice with sample web pages provided on the accompanying CD. Each chapter covers different aspects of the program, such as the possibility of making forms, Spry widgets, set up of page design, etc. Osborn goes beyond simply telling you to click here, click there to get something done, but explains what the options are, and what clicking here or there would accomplish. I’ll probably not be an accomplished web designer now, but I’ll have enough information on DW utilization to make a webpage if I needed to. Maybe someday soon, I’ll need to. DW leaves open direct coding, such a formally writing HTML code, writing AJAX or JavaScript, so is quite accommodating to different levels of expertise. I’m not sure where I’m going from here, as I don’t think it would be an efficient use of my time to start learning programming in JavaScript or any other language. Been there, done that, don’t need to repeat. This book is highly recommended to those of most levels who wish a solid summary of Dreamweaver, and is quite useful for the raw beginner.

Muslim Mafia

January 26th, 2010

Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America, by P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry ???

This book was motivated by PD Gaubatz posing as a CAIR undercover operative, revealing his discoveries within CAIR. It is not a fun read book, but more an encyclopedic exposé of CAIR operations. Thus, while informative, it is more a compendium of semi-organized findings within the daily operations of CAIR. Certainly, the book leaves one with the feel for the covert operations of various Muslim groups in the US, especially in regard to terrorist tactics. One is often left wondering about the direction that US Muslim relations should take. I accept that most Muslims are not bent on the destruction of America, or the forced proselytization and institution of Sharia law in the US. Yet, the refusal of the ordinary Arab/Muslim person to speak out against injustice and violence performed by their Islam brothers tends to speak volumes against the non-bias of most Muslims throughout the world. While Americans would eagerly marginalize Christian extremists that seek violent means to their end, the typical Muslim response is that of praise and glorification of their insane “martyrs”. In effect, the behavior of respectable Muslims leaves me uncertain of my ability to trust their stated deeper motives of peace. I remain friends with many Muslims, but remain troubled by  their inability of see clear distinctions between truth and falsehood, even in their own religion.  This book does point out the America’s desire for tolerance has so thoroughly crippled its ability to see clearly and manage the Islam equation in America, and, unable to do that, will assuredly loose the war on terrorism.

HTML, XHTML, & CSS for Dummies

January 13th, 2010

HTML, XHTML & CSS for Dummies, by Ed Tittle and Jeff Nobel ????

This is one of the better HTML webpage books that I’ve encountered, and a very excellent introduction for the cold novice. It takes the reader slowly through basic HTML, XHTML, and CSS, finally talking a bit about JavaScript and using other technologies such as php and DOM to write webpages. It is very basic, and once more complex topics such as JavaScript were breeched, only the most superficial routines were displayed. All in all, this was a good read for starting out in HTML, and left the reader knowledgeable about where to go at the finish of the book to further expand ones’ ability to create a webpage. The authors were wise enough to recommend one not risk writing complex script, but gave suggestions as to where already written script could be obtained in order to create webpage functionality. The book gave me a deeper love for Dreamweaver, since I can now jump between the actual page visualization and the html script, and have an understanding as to the meaning of the html script. I’ll be exploring css in more depth after this book, as well as Javascript.

WordPress for Dummies

December 31st, 2009


WordPress for Dummies, by Lisa Sabin-Wilson ???

Now that I’m doing my own webpages, with a lot of help from son-in-law Andrew, I’ve decided that I need to grasp some of the nuances of WordPress. Interestingly, many webpages are made by WordPress, as it possesses the best easy blog maker using SQL and php protocols. This book is a good introduction to WordPress. Its weakness is that it is both too easy and too hard. Most of the time in the book is spent taking you through all the things you can click on in WordPress which you could generally figure out for yourself. The rest of the book are technical aspects that are not well introduced, and thus not useable. An instance of the is the teaching of modification of css formats, which is nice to know, though one is not going to be messing with css until they’ve mastered the css language. All in all the book is a good but limited introduction to WordPress.

The Shack

December 23rd, 2009

The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young ??

23DEC09  I was given this book by a dear friend, who encouraged me to read it and then discuss the book with him. It apparently has been significant in his life. The book is essentially mostly conversations between Mack, and a large black lady, a small Oriental lady, and a blue-collar working man, representing “god”. Mack has a traumatic childhood, followed by the awkward loss of his youngest child, and expresses anger at ‘god’ for his life. ‘God’ then encounters Mack at the shack where Mack’s child Missy was murdered, and Mack engages in a lengthy psychobabble exchange about ‘god’s’ love for everybody, and how  ‘god’ is fond of us.

The book fails in many ways. 1) It attempts at gender-neutrality of God in a way that God never ever described of himself, 2) it is oblivious to the true character of God, his wrath, his morality, his offense at sin, 3) it diminishes mans’ sinfulness, not even speaking of sin, 4) it diminishes God’s authority, making it an interchange between God and man, with a massive Arminian theological flavor 5) it completely misunderstands the nature of Gods’ judgment, assuming that it would represent an angry god or judgmental god. 6) it assumes that relations are the highest good in life, rather than holiness, 7) it expresses distaste for anything institutional or orderly as diminishing Gods’ true expression. In all, the book is a complete failure. The fact that it has achieved such great popularity is quite concerning to me, as many who read it will see God in a new light, a light which is not the God of Scripture at all. There is almost no talk about Scripture in this book, as relationship doesn’t require a book. It relishes in antinomianism, assuming that Paul’s  injunctions about the law suggest that we live by no law at all. Historical movements against “dead” theologizing have usually swung far too far toward completely trashing theology,, but this trend is unfortunately still quite popular if not growing among Christians. It is incomprehensible and saddening how thoroughly the possibility of a theology of God has been abandoned by the new “conservative” Christian. If there is any virtue in this book, it is that it essentially fights a straw-man. It creates a quasi-Christian in Mack who has many false thoughts about God, and anger with God. The weakness of the book is the inability to offer true insights into the nature and character of either man or God. One might ask if the ‘god’ of the Shack is a kinder-gentler ‘god’. In this book, he (she) is, but when looked at with a discerning eye, Young’s ‘god’ ends up as confused as we are. It is only the God of Scripture, described well by the Reformers, that gives us a God that is truly worth loving and giving one’s life to.


Dreamweaver CS3 on Demand

December 21st, 2009

Dreamweaver CS3 On Demand ??

I needed to quickly learn Dreamweaver, since iWeb has become a severe disappointment to me. I decided to simply write my own webpage, and thus have control over everything. This book was no help. The book has its strengths. It is beautifully illustrated, and shows in very clear steps how to make certain functions happen. What it doesn’t tell you, is how to use those functions to write a webpage. I presume that the authors assume that you know how to compose a webpage, and are simply switching from another program to Dreamweaver. For a beginner, this book is essentially worthless.

Going Rogue

December 11th, 2009

Please note well… I am NOT writing about the book Going Rouge!!!!!

Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin ???

This book was read by me, since Betsy and I had lunch with the ghost-writer, Lynn Vincent. The ghost writing is excellent, with good flow and easy readability. This is one of the first times I have ever read a contemporary biography, especially of a political official, since politicians tend to make me nauseated, even when I agree with them (Ron Paul is a rare exception). I actually just finished reading Paul’s latest book on End the Fed, and the difference in the way Sarah Palin and Ron Paul think are quite apparent. Sarah remains a “soccer mom”, unsophisticated, the sort of person who would mouth off on public talk radio, full of great ideas. She did make a reasonably good governor, but national politics, with a larger heterogeneity of thought and opinion tended to overwhelm her. This book helped me to both agree with Sarah while at the same time seeing that she would make a terrible president. The book is best read in skimming mode, since too many details are included, attempting to paint Sarah as an ordinary US citizen, concerned enough to fight to become VP or president of the USA. It also shows a person that doesn’t have the ability to think deeply enough to best serve as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. This book is not recommended unless you are just deeply interested in Sarah Palin.


End the Fed

December 7th, 2009

End the Fed, by Ron Paul ????

Rep. Paul offers a brief summary of the formation and activities of the federal reserve, the concepts of economics, and provides a strong argument for the moral, constitutional, economic, and libertarian rationale for the Austrian system of economics. This is a short but good summary, Ron Paul offering good suggestions as to how to slowly ease away from the control of the federal reserve in all of our banking/money matters, and toward a precious metal basis for monetary worth.


Power Religion

December 2nd, 2009

Power Religion, edited by Michael Horton ????

02DEC09 The strength of this book is the most capable writers that Horton was able to recruit, including Charles Colson, JI Packer, DA Carson, etc. The weakness of the book is its broad sweeping coverage of “power” issues, leaving individual topics only superficially covered. The sections deal with power in politics (not sure how that relates to the general thesis of the book, but otherwise well written chapters), power evangelism of the Peter Wagner mold, and other power topics of relevance to the early 1990’s, but still applicable to today. This book is best read as disjoint chapters, rather than a comprehensive coverage of a theme. The final emphasis is that our power comes from Christ himself, and not some supernatural power that flows in a magical fashion out from us. To that I say, Amen.


Strange Fire

November 30th, 2009

Strange Fire, by Eric Wright ????

This book, written by a Baptist missionary to the Muslim world for 16 years, now a preacher in the Toronto area, writes an in-depth critical review of the Vineyard movement and Toronto blessing. As you might be aware, the Vineyard movement, started by John Wimber in the early 1980’s, attempted to resurrect the “signs and wonders” of the early church into today’s church. The Toronto Airport church went a little further in manifesting extreme physical signs, such as being “slain in the Spirit”, making animal sounds like barking like a God, or laughing hysterically for hours at a time, all during the typical worship service. Wright does an excellent job of reviewing the splits in the Vineyard movement, the total absence of focus on Scripture, and the essential non-Scriptural basis for this movement. It is a must read, though a touch long and often repetitive, of this dangerous movement in the Christian church.


Nineveh: A Parody of the Present

November 28th, 2009

Nineveh: A Parody of the Present – Biblical Clues to the Rise and Fall of America, by Victor Schlatter ?

As mentioned in a previous review of a book by Vic Schlatter, I know him personally, and really appreciate him as a friend. He is a very bright person, and very committed to evangelism. At one point in time in his service as a missionary to a tribe in the hills of New Guinea, he made a transformation to a Charismatic leaning. Now, this text is coming out full-force with his bent toward Christian Zionism. Unfortunately, as with another brother of mine who has emigrated to a third world country, their brilliance is betrayed by their current obsessions. That is a pity. Vic speaks in this book very little about the rise and fall of America, except to indict Obama. He speaks NOTHING of the sin of our nation, or its departure from God. To Vic, everything evolves around how we view the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, there are some Biblical persuasions, such as my own, that view Israel as the children of God, who happen to be us Gentiles grafted into a tree that failed to bear fruit, ie., the Jews. Whether or not there is a future for Israel I have no idea, but I do know that the Jews rejection of the Lord of Glory sustains the Lord’s condemnation. Vic lambasts most Americans as being superficial, yet his writing is about the most superficial writing I’ve read in a long time, speaking as though it was a 10 yo kid talking to another ten yo kid. He addresses God as Abba, Constantine as Connie, never gets to the point, and continually uses parody and flight of idea. By the end of the book, I had no clue as to what Vic was speaking about, save that he remained a Christian Zionist. Vic writes in a very funny style, yet has minimal content. I could not recommend this book to anybody. A pity, as I dearly love Vic, and enjoy my conversations with him.

The Prayer of Jabez

November 21st, 2009

The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson ?

This must be one of the worst books that I’ve read in a long time, being so bad that the last half was simply skimmed. I read it in the guest house in N’Djemena while waiting for our plane out of Chad. Bruce provides the prayer of Jabez as a mantra, as a recital that will guarantee one success in life. It is almost Buddist in its orientation, and I suppose some day he will make a prayer wheel out of his book so that the wind will generate increased blessing. To the serious reader, it will do more damage than good, by promising a false way to approach God, and what we might expect of Him. I am sick of books that turns God into Dog, the cosmic puppy-dog that will do tricks for you, or fetch something at your bidding. Unfortunately, the rest of this review was lost in my iWeb “bug”, but wasn’t favorable for the book. I don’t have a copy of the book to refresh my mind as to what else I may have written.

Old Paths

November 11th, 2009

Old Paths, by J.C. Ryle ?????

This book is simply a compendium of articles written by J.C. Ryle regarding the basics of the Christian faith, speaking about sin, conversion, being filled with the Spirit, and living a righteous Christian life. It is straight-forward, easy to read, not comprehensive, and because it was never written as a book, is often very repetitive. As long as the reader understand that, they will find this book a great delight to read and enjoy. This makes 12 books read while in Cameroon!

Die Geschichte der Deutschen

October 31st, 2009

Die Geschichte der Deutschen, by Guido Knopp ?????

This book, written in German, utilized many illustrations and simpler language for the school-level, which made it quite understandable to me. Knopp is a historian, who also works for the ZDF (I believe). Giving a history of Germany from the eyes of a German native, it made the story most fascinating, especially as he approached the modern epoch of the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany. The story begins with Karl der Grosse, and ends with reunifications, emphasizing both the triumphs and low points in the history of a nation. One gets the idea that, unlike France, there is a history of progression with the German people, that they have had to “re-invent” themselves many times out of necessity for survival, rather than cling to a past hypothetical ideal. If one could read German, this is a delightful read worth tackling.

Life Trilogy of Paul Helm

October 29th, 2009

The Beginnings, the Callings, The Last Things, by Paul Helm?????

This is actually three books being reviewed, and the cover of only the first book is shown. It is a series that was written by Paul Helm for Banner of Truth Publishers, each book written in sequence and published separately, though they should all be read together. Paul Helm is like many authors, who read better than they speak. Some authors, like Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks better than he writes; Helm is just the opposite. This is a delightful series that is essentially a systematic theological look at conversion, the living of the Christian life, and the finality of all things. Helm remains solidly reformed, but discussing the nature of conversion, our callings and work in life, and the final judgment in late 20th century terms. Being primarily a philosopher, he tends to think through theological problems on a systematic level, discussing alternative views, philosophical offshoots and encounters with the doctrine in question, and then settles matters with a conservative summary of doctrinal positions. These are a valuable set of books to read, which should be considered by anybody thinking deeply about the faith.

The Marketing of Evil

October 22nd, 2009

The Marketing of Evil, by David Kupelian ?????

I’ve been rare on 5-star reviews, but this book is well-written, reads well, and well researched. The author is Armenian, and appears as a rather homely person on the back flap of the book. He is everything but that. Rather, he is an articulate tiger, writing a book that was nearly impossible to put down. He serially attacks the homosexual agenda, the governmental confusion of separation of church and state, the wholesale sale of pornography, toleration and the false effort at multiculturalism, the destruction of marriage, the sex revolution, the sabotage of the school system, the extreme bias of the news media, the problem of abortion, and the problem of accommodation within the Christian church itself. He ends with quotes from two of my heros, Francis Schaeffer and David Wells, both men acutely seeing Western culture far better than the rest of us. Altogether, the book is precise in identifying the problem of what went wrong with America. The solution presented are for Christians to speak out, but even more than that, for Christians to truly live lives consistent with their Biblical calling. I’d highly recommend this book to all Americans to read as the best description was “what’s going on”. Brother Dennis wrote a book entitled “What’s going On”, detailing the conspiracies and secret societies that control America. Yet, though Dennis is correct, Kupelian does a better job of identifying the precise problems that have led to America’s downfall, which is the loss of faith of its citizens. To that we weep.

Calvin-A Guide for the Perplexed

October 20th, 2009

Calvin-A Guide for the Perplexed, by Paul Helm ????

This book is written by one of the up-coming stars in the world of Christian philosophy, being both reformed in his thinking, and a philosopher by trade. He currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. This book is rather short for the task that Paul Helm attempts, in that he tries to show who the “real” Calvin really is. No attempts at historical revisionism is made. Most the time, Helm discusses Calvin’s thought regarding God, the trinity, the person and nature of Christ, delving only shortly into those items most commonly associated with Calvin, i.e, predestination and particular redemption. All in all, Helm points out the Calvin tends to not be as harsh around the edges as many in Reformed thinking make him out to be. It is amazing how many sects of Reformed thought readily quote Calvin, without trying to understand the nature and character of Calvin. It is true that Calvin’s theology underwent further development following his death, as would be expected. The question of whether the typical characature of Calvin described by TULIP would hold. It is Helm’s thinking that such theology does follow from Calvin, though Calvin never fully developed the theology named after him. Interesting discussion about Covenant theology was also engaged, again without absolute certainty that Calvin’s approval would be forthcoming. A final conclusion of the most important characteristic of Calvin’s thought, that of the majesty and sovereignty of God, were emphasized. Although the book ready in a somewhat thick and stodgy fashion, it reflected excellent thought of the writer, and helped me see Calvin in a moderately “mellower” light.

10 Books that Screwed Up the World

October 17th, 2009

10 Books that Screwed Up the World, by Benjamin Wiker ????

This was more an entertaining read, rather than deeply informative. Wiker writes well, and steps through the books and lives of 15 people (he actually reviews 15 books) that have brought humans to the worse rather than the better. Included are Machiavelli, Rousseau, Hobbes, Marx, Nietsche, Hitler, Sanger, Mead, and Kinsey, as well as six other authors. Wiker adeptly points out the destructive philosophy and character of each of these texts. He does not do any in-depth analysis, but provides brief summaries of the characters of the authors, their writings, and philosophical implications of their works. It is a nice work in the “gutter” authorship of the last half of the last millennium. It is not uncommon to see the “top ten” books, but now we have a first review of the “bottom 10” (actually 15) texts since the Renaissance. This is a fun read for idle moments, and worth getting.

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea

October 16th, 2009

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, by Alister McGrath ?????

I had varied throughout the reading of the book, at rating the book between 3-5. I finally settled on a 5 in spite of a few serious misgivings. Alister McGrath is known as a conservative Protestant scholar working out of Oxford. McGrath takes a fairly event stance in spite of his supposed academic and conservative stance. Sometimes, he goes a little too far in trying to be moderate, such as when he seems to side with Fosdick in the Fosdick/Machen controversy, Machen accusing liberal Christianity of having abandoned Christian roots and thus not being Christian at all. I think Machen was correct. Yet, McGrath also is very even keeled in his presentation of Pentecostalism as being the dominant force now driving the massive spread of Protestantism throughout much of the rest of the world, including South America, Africa, Asia and Korea, as well as possibly the Philippines. Thematically, McGrath holds tight to his thesis of displaying how the Christian “dangerous” idea that put the Bible into the hands of the layman, allowing them to read and interpret scripture outside of the forced interpretation of the church, has allowed the Protestant movement to adapt to other cultures and societies well beyond the expectations of the west. The book is divided into three parts, the first being a standard historical outline from Luther and Zwingli and Calvin to the present day. It is a focused history, examining the fundamental thesis of what happens when you put the Bible into the hands of a layman. True, you get diversity, heresy, secularization, etc., but you also get adaptability to various cultures. The second part outlined Protestant influence on Western culture, including music, art, science, etc. I’m not sure all of his analyses were entirely accurate, especially with issues of evolution and science, but again, McGrath is possibly attempting to not takes sides in the issue. He still leans toward the evolutionists, sadly. The third part speaks of the rapid growth of Christianity through the rest of the world, and his hypothesis as to why that is happening, which is, as mentioned above, Pentecostalism and other forms of spirituality that are more directed to the culture, thinking  of the lifestyle of people outside of the Western world and adapting Christianity to those cultures, rather than forcing a pure Western cultural interpretation on Christianity. Missing in the book is discussions as to how a large part of Christianity has trashed the Scripture. This is especially true of liberal Christianity. Since the basic thesis of this book is the freedom to interpret Scripture, when you deconstruct Scripture rather than interpret it, does that produce a Christian? I don’t think so. Also not included is the concept of the “heretic”. Essentially, Islam, as well as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism are heresies, that I would fail to define as essentially Christian, yet he doesn’t address this issue of deviants of interpretation and belief that delegitimize being a Christian. This is a book worth reading, though a bit dense and sometimes controversial, it reads easily and is very thought provoking.

The Rest is Noise

October 7th, 2009

The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross  ?????

This book was a joy to read, in that I have a great enjoyment of classical music. Ross provides a deep insight into what has happened to modern classical music, by providing a historical commentary on the twentieth century development of classical music. The story starts with the struggles between the differing styles of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. He then delves into the effects of the New Viennese school (Schoenberg, etc.), the development of Stravinsky and a counter to atonality, early modern American music, such as Ives, etc., Sibelius, and the post-WWI German scene. A second part delves into music in the Soviet Union 1933-1945, American music, including Copland, and music at the end of Hitler’s Germany. The third part, from 1945 to 1999, discusses the development of the Avant-Garde and a rebellion against all tonality, indeed, all formality in music, including the very beat and structure of music from the time of the middle ages. Various movements, including that of Benjamin Britten, Messiaen, Ligeti, and others continuing to rebel against the rebellers, were described. Finally, the minimalists and final composers of the end of the twentieth century are noted. What I appreciated about Ross was his ability to go beyond the discussion of the method of music, in order to discuss the media and message of music. He freely admits that the music scene changed in part because composers no longer had a message, no longer had anything to say, and no longer saw a point to music. Leading among these was the heavy influence of John Cage in the post-WWII years. Thus, it is surprising that all forms of art, including painting, sculpture, literature, as well as music have followed similar routes in deconstruction with loss of any legitimate message to convey. So, we are left in a perplexing situation, where music is sometimes sold as the sounds of somebody hacking a table apart with an axe, or a locomotive rolling down the tracks, or sounds of nature, or the audience shuffling their chairs, or human voices degraded by electronic means to the point of no longer perceiving the word or even the recognition of humanness. In deed, in the despair, and destruction of music from its highest form as found in JS Bach and others.  This does not mean that all twentieth century music is bad, and I have an appreciation for some of the music that has been written in the last 75-100 years. Yet, the awareness of the underlying philosophy, and personal character of the composers, was more informative as the loss of moral, spiritual, ethical, or personal value of both the composer and their music, is noted. This leads to a discussion of the title of this book, which is itself ambiguous. A “rest” in music is a pause where no sound is made. To the modern composer, a rest may actually be noise. Ross never defines noise, but sometimes suggests that some of modern music may be noise. So, just has time has weeded away the dross of most classical composers, time may again weed away much of the dross of our current noise composers.

Kein Grund zur Resignation

October 6th, 2009

Kein Grund zur Resignation, Peter Hahne ????

This book is obviously in German, and is an encouragement to hang in there. Specifically, it speaks of maintaining time in Scripture, praying, and fellowshipping. Hahne has an easy writing style to understand, which allows me to enjoy his writing, and I appreciate his strength of faith.

The Little Prince

September 28th, 2009

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ???

This is a fairly short book that I read in flight to Cameroon. It was written by a French pilot, who was once grounded while flying over the Sahara Desert in the 1930’s. He eventually died in WWII. The book has achieved a near cult status, in part owing to many implications which could be drawn from the story. I’m not sure if the author was hinting at deep profoundness when he wrote the book, though his suggestion that it’s a story mostly for adults tends to hint at that. The story is of a pilot who crashes in the desert, meets a little man (prince) who asks him lots of questions. The little prince then goes into detail describing his own planet, and various other planets that he has visiting in the universe before falling to earth. In then follows the little Princes’ impression of earth.

This book was an interesting read, encouraging a focus on appreciating the little things, like a rose. Is was not so good of book at inspiring an ideology. For example, the little prince was responsible for keeping his plant in good order and for preventing the overgrowth of baobabs, by uprooting them early, and if not uprooted, they will overgrow the planet. Yet, the baobabs are simply trees. Does he mean that we offer preference for one plant over another on our earth. He disdains planets that have egotistical kings and greedy businesspeople, but is he suggesting a generality? I hope not. Always mentioned was his preoccupation for getting back to his small world to tend for a single flower, which was supposed to be the only one in the universe, except that there was an abundance of them on earth. So, what is he implying? Environmental implications? Societal implications? Economic, capitalistic implications? I suppose that a person who most loves this story would imply that I simply do not understand. Yet, that in itself is a form of wanton arrogance, as perhaps I understand all too well what the author’s intentions were. The back cover suggests that I am supposed to learn what is really important in life through this little story. But, it hasn’t happened. Perhaps my greatest dismay is that relations with others is important, yet the little prince seemed to control the entire exchange between the pilot and himself. Even the little prince could not tell what was most important in life. Was it his flower, or was it the sheep he desired on his planet, though it might eat his flower? In fact, the little prince seems to imply that he himself was most important. So, we’ll let the little prince return to his own planet, and spend our time on earth using other means as to what is best in life. Just ask Conan the Barbarian!

Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees

September 22nd, 2009

Don’t Let the Goats eat the Loquat Trees, by Dr. Thomas Hale ????

I really wanted to give this book 5-stars as I truly enjoyed reading it. Thomas Hale is a wonderful writer, mixing an entertaining style with a story line that is quite fascinating. I truly appreciated his frank, honest style, that seemed to hit home with the experiences that I had in Bangladesh, with the overwhelming number of patients, the extreme poverty, the prejudices against Western medicine, the personal struggles, the struggles with natives and their own peculiarities. He never paints himself as the miracle doctor, and seems to spend more time describing his failures than his successes. The book starts out as a chronological narrative for several chapters, which left me ready to put it down. He describes himself and his wife as not having a clue as to exactly where they were going, or under what conditions they would be living. The first thought was that I was reading the story of a quasi-clueless but deeply atruistic missionary dragging God along as the magic puppy-dog who bales him out of every trouble created by dumb decisions. This book ended up being anything but that, and reflected a very pragmatic, hard-working surgeon who had a very realistic sense of what he could expect and accomplish in Nepal. Much of the book was written in non-chronological order, but with chapters divided into various topics, such as the living conditions, certain events, and philosophical reflections. I enjoyed the chapters where he vignetted various patients.  So, my criticisms. 1) I get a flavor for his character, but read almost nothing of his wife, kids, other doctors, or other people involved in his life. 2) He speaks some of Christ, but little about the intention to bring Christ to the Nepalis. I am not certain whether his motivations were altruistic vs. Christ oriented. 3) The final few chapters entails rhetoric of a Malthusian nature, with him fretting over population growth and food supply and wealth distribution. It seemed like a chapter right out of the clueless mutterings of Tony Campolo, Thomas Sines or Ron Sider. Overlooking the criticisms, this is a fun book to read and reflective of what it is really like to be a missionary surgeon. I hope that someone like Dr. Kelley offer an autobiography of their own experiences in the field, which certainly would be as enthralling, but leading toward a more appreciative conservatism and reflective of a work of God in the mission field.

An Introduction to the New Testament

September 9th, 2009

An Introduction to the New Testament, by DA Carson and DJ Moo ????

This textbook is a companion volume to a previously reviewed text on the Old Testament. The book is primarily encyclopedic in its approach, with heavy referencing. It follows a consistent format, as it deals with each book of the New Testament. The writing is in a deeply orthodox, conservative style, respecting the opus of books compiled as the NT. The discussions usually were of an academic vein, defending the canon and words of Scripture, rather than deconstructing it, as is popular, even among many so-called conservative scholars. It is a dense read, over 700 pages, but a pleasure and worth it.

 

The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes

September 8th, 2009

The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, an introduction to Wisdom Literature, by Derek Kidner ????

Derek Kidner is one of the great Hebrew scholars of the late 20th century, and has written a number of commentaries on Psalms, Proverbs and the wisdom literature. This book provides a summary of information. It is organized by a chapter discussing the themes of a respective book, followed by a chapter of discussion of the current textual criticisms of the book. At the end, a summary chapter of the global impact and value of these three books is discussed. There are three appendices, the first discussing the existent knowledge of contemporary wisdom literature of the mid-east, the second discussing Ecclesiasticus, and the third the Wisdom of Solomon. The book is solid conservative scholarship, though mildly dense to read, and more encyclopedic than devotional. This is a good read, but not the first book I’d pick up on the subject.

 

Adobe Illustrator CS4 Classroom in a Book

August 25th, 2009

Adobe Illustrator CS4 Classroom in a Book, by the staff of Adobe Systems ????

I had worked through the same book for Adobe Illustrator CS, and found the book to be poorly written, often confusing, and rarely ever instructive as to the full usage of Illustrator. Rather, it simply gave you a set of instructions on how to make a certain piece of art, never telling you why you were doing what it was telling you, and never explaining all the other options on the menu. This edition has corrected most of those mistakes, and was actually informative, leaving me a feel that I had mastered the basics of Illustrator. It provides ample opportunity to experiment with the system, and encourages one to play, since the full use of Illustrator takes time and much practice. It left me feeling that I would be better served with a Wacom tablet, which I’ll probably get soon. Perhaps it was the second exposure, but I now feel much more comfortable with the use of Illustrator. All the same, there were a number of times when I could not make Illustrator do as the instructions were telling me, and sometimes could figure out what was wrong, other times not. Perhaps new editions should also include more side bars to the text detailing where one might get into trouble, or not end up with the same result—this is especially true when working with layers and masks, which was one great deficit of both the Illustrator and Photoshop Classroom texts.

 

Photoshop CS3 for Nature Photographers

August 23rd, 2009

Photoshop CS3 for Nature Photographers, by Ellen Anon and Tim Grey ????

This is a well-written book on using Photoshop when taking scenic photos, like, most of what I do. It starts out rather slow, belaboring the use of Adobe RAW and Adobe Bridge, before getting into details of how to make nature photographs look better. There is an accompanying CD (which I did not use) that allows you to practice your skills on some provided nature photographs. This book is very well written, and provides sage advice both for the photographer in the field, as well as the photographer at the computer, trying to improve on the “excellent” field techniques that were used. It has convinced me to take all my photographs in RAW format, as well as to use a tripod almost always. Unfortunately, that means that backpacking will not be my main source for prize photos, but rather, when I cycle tour, since only then can I lug along a wealth of photography supplies.

 

The Digital Photography Book

August 21st, 2009

The Digital Photography Book, by Scott Kelby ????

Kelby is a fairly well known photography, author and personality in the digital photography circuit, having not only written several books on digital photography, he also has published books on photoshop techniques and is found on AdobeTV and in numerous podcasts from the Apple site. Kelby is more a hands-on author, describing how he does things, rather than why he does things. Thus, he offers much concrete advise, mostly all good, regarding practical aspects of how to take a good photo, and then process it for publication or personal use. Reviewing other books in this series, there tends to be much repetition, thus, I will probably not purchase those books.

 

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Classroom in a Book

August 8th, 2009

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Classroom in a Book, by Adobe Systems ???

This is an introductory text and workbook for learning Adobe Photoshop. It intends to take the beginner and provide the variety of possibilities as to what Photoshop can do for you. It is easy to read, and with few mistakes. The book provides a very broad spectrum of the functionality of Photoshop, including such things as publishing issues, 3D modeling, vector drawing, and working with scientific drawings, as well as working with usual landscape, portrait, and street-photography. This is the strength of the book, in that one finishes this book realizing that there is a vast amount of possibility in the manipulation that one could do to a certain photo, and provides a wonderful artistic tool to express the imagination. The book is very weak in making one competent at Photoshop. One is directed through a number of projects, but rarely ever given an explanation as to why you are doing that, or given an explanation as to how you plan out a project to accomplish your tasks. On the many tools, you are simply given the settings, without being told what all the various settings do. They lead you quickly through channels, layers, masking, etc., without giving you a clue as to how to use these modalities for your own projects. Thus, the book falls seriously short of instilling basic Photoshop competence, and acts more as a Photoshop showcase. Coming from Adobe, they should be ashamed at what they have published, especially for the high price that they charge for this book. You will definitely need to read another text in order to gain Photoshop competence.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas

August 5th, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas, by G.K. Chesterton ?

I had read other books by Chesterton, including Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and had appreciated these books as thoughtful writing in a erudite style that was a pleasure to read. Several years ago, I read the other of Chesterton’s biographies on St. Francis of Assisi, and would have given it 5-stars if I was writing book reviews at that time. This tome was a serious disappointment. Chesterton makes it quite clear that Aquinas was his favorite saint, yet abounds in hyperbole and over-statement that is just the opposite of what would be expected of a British author. Chesterton’s point is to exalt the Aristotelianism of Aquinas against the Platonism of Augustine, and ultimately leaves Augustine as a rather diminutive saint, a pessimist, and a breeder of pessimists such as M. Luther. At the end of his short text, he waxes quite long in diatribe against Martin Luther, yet offers nothing substantial, just as the entire text truly offers nothing substantial for me to change my low opinion of Thomas Aquinus. Chesterton is prolific with quite absurd statements, which are thrown out with no defense, such as the argument that Calvin was a Manichean. Please? Chesterton shows not only his ignorance of Calvin (and Augustine, who wrote the definitive arguments against the Manicheans) but also of Aquinas. Another absurd statement will be used as an example… first he states that St. TA was the only real realist, then states later that he was not too much of a realist (???) so as to be like Plato. Please again???? Chesterton’s writing uses repeatedly the word “Catholic”, as though he were trying to differentiate Romanism from the Christianity of Christians. With his use of the word “Catholic”, I plead that I am only a Christian and NOT a Catholic. It is unfortunate that Chesterton’s zeal for his own ideology clouds the ability to rightfully describe St. TA, and I’m left as much in the dark before this book as after reading it as to knowing Thomas Aquinas.

Perhaps the greatest error of Aquinas was to hold rationalism in supreme regard, as parroted by Chesterton. Contrary to Augustine and the Reformers who hold that the entire man is fallen, including his intellect and rationality, Chesterton and other authors portray TA as not considering human rationality to have serious defects. In the end, this would lead to a chasm between the human intellect and the Scriptures, which are believed on faith. That is, Aquinas held that faith follows reason, and Augustine the opposite. Such thinking in Aquinas would explain why modern man would produce the dichotomy between the lower story of experience and the upper story of faith, as described by St. Francis Schaeffer. For this reason, the Reformers were correct in throwing out St. Thomas Aquinas, and Chesterton’s book only reinforced this thought in my mind.

 

Finding the Will of God

July 2nd, 2009

Finding the Will of God, by Bruce Waltke ?????

Bruce Waltke is one of the most renowned Hebrew scholars alive today, yet remains a conservative thinker. This book should become a timeless classic, well written, and thoughtfully considered from the lengthy and vast experience of a professor of Hebrew, especially relating the many questions and fallacies that his students manifested to him. Waltke challenges the idea of finding a will for God in your life, instead, suggesting that the ideal will of God is that you live holy, and that he will give you desires and motivations that lead you where he would have you go. Waltke speaks emphatically about demanding that God’s will for any given decision be sought after by many of the typical means used by Christians today, including circumstantial evidence, random use of Scripture, or a mental “revelation” from God. Instead, he encourages the use of counsel, and use of the church in finding what is right for you. This is a must-read book which I would encourage all to consider reading.

 

Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook

July 2nd, 2009

Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook, produced by the USDA ???

This was a fun-read book, entertaining, since it provided an introduction which most people are unfamiliar with, regarding the thought processes used to design trails, and the methods for maintaining those trails. Needless to say, the “science” of trail building has improved greatly over the years, so that many of the trails that one is used to from years ago, where the trail is a veritable river, or lengthy mud-puddle, reflects poor design of the trail. A trail should manifest minimal maintenance, and should remain comfortable throughout dry and wet weather to walk on the trail. It was used as the supporting text for my trail building class that I attended several weeks ago.

 

Canon EOS Rebel XSi Digitial Field Guide

June 17th, 2009

Canon EOS Rebel XSi Digitial Field Guide, by Charlotte Lowrie ????

This is an introductory guide on the use of all the features of this camera, as well as a reference for the use and settings of the camera in various situations. It is well written, and well illustrated. Ultimately, a combination of continual reminder of camera features and functionality, coupled with regular use of the camera, allows one to get the most out of such a camera. It is a very good introductory text for those new to either photography, or to this camera.

 

William Carey

June 17th, 2009

William Carey, by Basil Miller ????

I actually enjoyed reading this book, though it has its serious literary flaws. The book is a story of the life of William Carey. Such a man is a story worth telling, leaving England as a poor laborer, though even then, quite skilled in languages, to become a world-famous linguist and expert on the Indian languages, especially Bangla. His perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is a testimony of faith and love for God that is not commonly seen. It was also a reflection of exactly the problems that we were seeing when we were in Bangladesh, including the continually insincere converts, integrity problems with the converts, serious problems with understanding and commitment from the home mission boards, etc. I felt like nothing had changed over the last 200 years. I was also surprised at how vigorously the British government acted to prevent missions from occurring in India–Great Britain is often thought of as the great evangelical enterprise but it was just the opposite, in that evangelization of the world happened in spite of the British crown. So, what were my problems with the book? I never like hyperbole or extrapolation in a biography. Here are two examples. 1) The title “the father of modern missions”. Now I know that Carey played a huge role in modern missions, and probably was more influential than most at getting the work started of translation of the Scriptures into various tongues. I’d be hesitant to call him the grounding father of missions. 2) Frequent statements, like found on page 72, talking about God’s work in settling Carey into the city of Serampore, saying “Truly this was the leading of God”. Indeed it certainly was God’s leading, but even hindsight betrays our ability to know God’s thoughts and intentions, outside of direct revelation from him or through Scripture. It is the same mistake that the Pentecostals make when they speak of God “telling them” something. These criticisms do not diminish the book as a tome worth reading.

 

To Africa With Love

May 31st, 2009

To Africa With Love, by James Foulkes, M.D. ???

I enjoyed this read, knowing that I soon would be going to Africa, and appreciated the insights of a veteran missionary surgeon. Foulkes went to Zambia, in a quite rural hospital. The read on this book is very personal, giving you a sense of Foulke’s character, but less of a sense of deeper insights into issues. He had a tendency to be a magical Christian, coming from a Arminian-Wesleyan-Pentecostal tradition. I certainly appreciate his issues with spirit possession, but, he also tended to be a total cowboy, and to get himself into unnecessary trouble. This is not a text that offers any rich insights into either Africa or missions. It is more a personal encounter that is most relevant to those who know Jim, or who have worked in Zambia.

 

Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty

May 30th, 2009

Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty, by Udo Middelmann ?????

Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty was read at a most timely period in my life. The book arrived in the mail just before departing to Bangladesh with my wife, where we worked for 10 weeks in a Baptist hospital south of Chittagong. Owing to weight restrictions, etc., we were unable to bring the book. That was probably for the best, since the serious questions of “rich” Christians dealing with abject poverty had not come to bear in my mind, and we left Bangladesh quite troubled about a true Christian approach toward poverty. Your book helped tremendously.

Let me explain the situation. As you are aware, Bangladesh actually used to be the richest region in all of Asia. With the coming of the British, they successfully raped Bengal of all its wealth, destroyed its industry, and yet refused to bring in Christianity for fear of “upsetting” the population. It was only a few missionaries like William Carey in Kolkota that any Christianity in Bengal existed at all. The rest of the story you are indubitably aware of, how east and west Pakistan broke away from India in 1947, again, in part because of serious religious and racial friction that the British created to maintain their control of the Indian subcontinent, by dividing the Muslim from the Hindu sub-populations. Bangladesh then achieved independence from Pakistan in 1971 through a viciously bloody civil war. What is left is a small country the size of Wisconsin with a population of 160 million. The average wage is about $200/year. The cost of living is quite low.

We have had the chance to encounter many Nationals while in the country, all of them quite poor, save for a minor handful of wealthy Muslims. Among the poor, Christian or Muslim or Hindu, we noted particular mindset issues…

  1. 1.An almost magical belief in certain commodities. We have had many Nationals beg of us to help them purchase a camera and a computer, since those items would create the difference that would allow them to rise to a position of wealth.
  2. 2.A terrible sense of use of money. As an example, when one gets married, they are culturally required to provide a large feast for the entire community, which typically sets a young couple many years behind in debt. I suggested that the Christian community band together to create an alternative solution, which did not go over so well.
  3. 3.There is a sense of indifference to life. While the Bengali can be a very hard worker, there is also a sense that hard work will only lead to pain, and not achieve a higher social or economic status.
  4. 4.A strong sense of sharing of wealth and generosity, but more for cultural status, rather than care for self or family. This would often set somebody back financially and can be quite destructive to family economics, while preserving social status. There is no sense of admitting that one is poor, and that generosity is not sometimes possible.
  5. 5.A sense of total absence of integrity. This was true even among the Christians, who simply could not fathom that debt must be repaid, that truthfulness was of greater value than wealth, that integrity in every interaction with another human being must prevail over any economic need that existed. In economic dealings, many of the National Christians (more often than not, actually), when given control over ex-pat finances, have stolen large sums, without any sense of remorse or guilt.
  6. 6.Ultimately, the universal desire and focus on wealth rather than character identified the Bengali as just as materialistic as us Westerners.

So, we came home with multiple requests for clothing items, shoes, money, computers, cameras, invitations to the Western world, etc., etc. There was only one young Christian man of the thousands we encountered who told us that he didn’t want our money, but just prayer.

I was very troubled as to how the missionaries dealt with the situation. Often, they would form a revised “caste” system. I was very troubled how they would sometimes treat their Christian National brother or sister much differently than the ex-pat. But, the missionaries have been frequently burned. The examples are exceedingly rare of National Christians that have held true to the faith when offered substantial wealth from the ex-pats for schooling or business in an attempt to get them out of poverty.

So, Betsy and I came home with very troubled minds. Should we have been more generous? Were the missionary rules of no greater than $20 gifts to strict or oppressive? How do I deal with the scriptural command to love my neighbor, and care for my Christian brothers and sisters when they manifest true needs and I have the ability to help?

I feared that this book would be like virtually every other poverty/wealth book out there, a variant of finding a balance between the Marxist/Socialist vs. Capitalist struggle. Thankfully, it was anything but that. The postscript admits that the writing is primarily an ideological approach, yet that is the approach that is missing from all the other Christian books on wealth and poverty that I have read. I need not quote Ron Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” (I think that’s the name), who takes an essentially Marxist stance toward wealth, and leaves one guilty for not sharing until they have achieved the same level of poverty of those being shared with. Or Ron Nash’s books on economics, with a blind capitalistic mentality that fails to prioritize Christian moral values as the oil that allows the capitalistic gears to turn. Or any book that emphasizes the value of personhood, and our approach to the needy as persons rather than simple economic holes.

There is one thing that Udo mentioned only indirectly, which is that oftentimes poverty can be as a result of governmental mindset rather than individual mindset. Bangladesh has a corrupt government (persistently #1 in a well-known corruption index), moderately oppressive Muslim (we had to be very careful about speaking about Christ) social structure, that causes even right-minded Christians to suffer. There are times when we suffer for another person’s sins. I’m not sure as to the solution, except to encourage truth to be spoken about the true etiology of the suffering.

So, this book was a very welcome read, answering many questions that I had about a Christian approach to poverty. I’m sure more questions will arise. Betsy and I will be headed to Northern Cameroon for two months at the end of September, where we’ll probably see similar circumstances of abject poverty. I will be purchasing a few more copies of your book to hand out to friends and missionaries in the field. Thank you for a thought-provoking text.

 

Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer

May 23rd, 2009

23MAY2009 Vol. 5, Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, How Should We then Live, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, A Christian Manifesto. ????

All but the last book of this volume were read by me in Malumghat. Since it belonged to the Malumghat library, I decided I’d read A Christian Manifesto at home. Pollution and the Death of Man speaks of Christians being seriously involved in the environmental movement, since we believe the world to be created by God, and thus have a rational basis for caring for it. How Should We then Live is a short history of philosophy from the viewpoint of Schaeffer’s thesis. This set would have received a five star, except that I felt that the third book,  Whatever happened to the Human Race, which is a treatise on the pro-life movement rationale, was weakened by Dr. Koops’ chapters in the text. The book is an argument against abortion. Unfortunately, Dr. Koop assumes blindly that we should throw every ounce of technology into medicine to preserve life. As a pioneer pediatric surgeon, that is a reasonable thing to do in research, but does not provide practicality when it comes to the practicing physician out of the ivory towers. Thus, he remains clueless of real life. Unfortunately, I have many families of patients with Koop’s mentality insist on maintaining medical care at all cost, since they don’t have to pay, yet really not out of concern for their loved one, since they would rarely ever lift a finger to help out. This is where the third-world model is much better, where, if a patient received medical care, the family was expected to stay in the hospital to also assist in the bedside care of the patient. The end of HSWTL was excellent in Schaeffer providing a theological basis for the pro-life movement. Unfortunately, Koop could have thought out the basis for medical economics a bit better, but seemed to be more self-serving that theologically correct. A Christian Manifesto is written from a legal perspective for the Christian Legal Society, and speaks about the problem of law without a Christian basis leading to anarchy or oppression. Schaeffer calls for civil disobedience when necessary, but to always remember that the laws of God always take precedent over the laws of man.

 

12MAY2009 Vol. 2, Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, No Final Conflict, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, Basic Bible Studies, Art and the Bible. ????

I continue on with the works of Francis Schaeffer. These books deal with either expository writings from Genesis and Joshua, and argument for the absence of conflict between science and modern knowledge with Scripture, ending with simple thematic bible studies, consisting mostly of references for personal review. Art and the Bible deviates from these former themes, by focusing purely upon the world-view of art throughout history. I appreciated the art book the most. If all of these texts, Schaeffer competently defends the Scriptures as the true propositional revelation of the God who is there, without mistake or error. This, of course, goes counter to modern thought that it is only a fool who thinks that Scripture is infallible. Yet, Schaeffer, as many authors since have argued, the basis of inerrancy and infallability is not a blind leap of faith, but based partly on the failure of anyone to substantially prove that the Bible contains error. His words need to be reread in modern times, where Scripture tends to have decreasing importance, even among Christians.

 

07MAY2009 Vol. 1 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He is there and He is not Silent, Back to Freedom and Dignity ?????

As with Vol. 3 &4, these are books that I have read in the past. These texts are the most seminal statements of Schaeffer, the books that led to his rise to fame. During the late 60’s, and early 70’s where student revolts were happening on all the campuses, Francis Schaeffer was also heavily discussed by many intellectuals. I had read these books during that time period, though I confess that they seemed to be a  little challenging to understand. I it is comforting to know that they are now somewhat light reading. I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading these texts, because I can now see them in a much broader light. They remain significant and true to philosophical principles. I find several issues though of concern. 1) Schaeffer often makes broad statements that are not well backed up, such as Kierkegaard being the father of secular existentialism. He’s probably right, but he never discusses anything from Kierkegaard’s writings that would substantiate that claim. There are numerous other examples that I will spare the reader 2) Schaeffer’s focus tends to be limited to general philosophy and art. He also discusses other cultural activities such as music and literature, both of which I think he could have done a much better job at, and would have better supported his general thesis. Both the discussion of music and literature left out many vitally important artists and writers of the 19th and 20th century, manifesting the “leap to despair” that typifies modern man. I’m surprised that he spends so little time on the scholars of linguistic analysis, and leaves out important characters such as Chomsky and Jacques Derrida, while very briefly discussing Foucault in a highly oblique fashion. All in all, these books are truly great works. Schaeffer has deeply affected many people, myself included. I only wish that his untimely death could have been a bit later, in order to see how he would have engaged the modern world. Perhaps it is best. Schaeffer probably would have been frustrated by the fact that students no longer ask deep, important, probing questions. They are content to live in their upper story world without ever being disturbed about the philosophical inconsistencies of their fantasy world, with the real world about them. Having started college at the end of the student revolutions, several teachers lamented the fact that students were more worried about getting good grades, than demanding answers to the harder philosophical inconsistencies of life. Those of us that continue to think about the serious metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological questions of life will soon be dinosaurs.

 

01MAY2009 Vol. 4 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, The Church Before the Watching World, The Mark of the Christian, Death in the City ?????

As with Vol. 3, these are books that I have read in the past. Now that I know more about the particular history of Francis Schaeffer, these books seem to make more sense. In the first book, Schaeffer speaks of the student revolutions of the 1960’s and the philosophical changes that affected thinking even in the church. Schaeffer goes to length in talking about how the church should respond, by speaking truth as truth, and by showing a community of love for each other. The second book delves deeper into the changes in the church, including evangelical churches, that have been affected by theological liberalism. He discusses the case of the Presbyterian church as to what has been done right and wrong in the church. Specifically, the emphasis is on a tough balance between not wavering in our theology, and yet showing love for each other and the world at large. The Mark of the Christian addresses particularly the importance of Christians as a community showing love to each other. The last book, Death in the City, studies the situation in Jeremiah’s time, as reflective of the church and society today, i.e., both situations being “post-Christian”. He then delves into a study of the first several chapters of Romans and suggests the response of the church being a return to belief in God as a God that is real, and not a leap in the dark thing that we interact with only on coming to faith and at death.

 

 

27APR2009 Vol. 3 Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, True Spirituality, The New Superspirituality, Two Contents, Two Realities ????

It’s been 30 years or more since I last read these books, which came out in the early 1970’s. I had owned the Complete Works, but they collected dust on my bookshelf. Now, after having read all of the books that I brought along with me, I discovered these works in the Malumghat Guest House library, apparently with Viggo Olsens’ name in the front. They looked like they had been read 0-1 times. Vol. 1 contains Schaeffer’s most distinct works, but I decided to attack vol. 3 & 4 first. Rather than do individual book reports on each book in the volume, I felt it best to do blanket summaries. This volume relates to a Christian view of spirituality. No Little People is a set of sermons that Schaeffer gave preaching through the Scriptures on various people of Scripture, like, Joseph, David, Elijah, and Christ himself, to name a few. The point was the significance of all people who trust in Christ. True Spirituality comes in two sections, the first is essentially a fast review of basic theology, and the second relates to the application of theology to the Christian view of self (psychology), others, and the church. TNS spoke about trends in the 1970’s on the religious scene that were considered advancements, such as the new Pentecostalism and new forms of legalism that really were not Christian at all on final analysis. The last book, TCTR was a speech that Schaeffer gave detailing four issues that Christians must focus on, including 1. correct doctrine, 2. honest answers to honest questions, 3. true spirituality, and 4. human relations in Christ’s love. Most of what Schaeffer says remains contemporary, in that we continue as Christians to not walk the walk or talk the talk, and our Christianity remains in our own style and invention. His is a plea to return to biblical Christianity.

 

Bangladesh-Reflections on the Water

May 23rd, 2009

Bangladesh-Reflections on the Water, by James Novak ????

This was an excellent read after returning from Bangladesh. The book provided a better insight into the history and mentality of the Bangladeshi people. It was written by the experience of a Westerner who spent 30 years in Bangladesh, providing a reasonably fair review of the culture and mindset of a typical Bangladeshi, as well as the problems and hope that the country will have. My only issue with the book is the unfettered praise that the book gives toward the Islam religion, which, in my experience, is part of the reason Bangladesh is in the condition that it is in right now. This is an important read for anybody who comes to spend any time in Bangladesh.

 

Die Macht der Manipulation

May 20th, 2009

Die Macht der Manipulation, by Peter Hahne ????

Oddly, I stumbled across Thomas Kühn on my last day at Malumghat, and was able to refresh my German with him. Then, the last book I read on our trip was a book in German. This book was excellent, a resurrection of the theme by Neil Postman, Amuzing ourselves to Death, and which is often quoted in the book. Hahne describes how the electronic amuzement industry, including television mostly, is destructive to ourselves, and allows for our manipulation by the mass media. He offers numerous examples and explanations as to how to television industry controls and manipulates our preferences and better judgement. His recommendation is to return to God, and depend on him to provide an alternative World-view to influence our judgement and behavior. This book is worth translating into English.

 

Knowing God

April 22nd, 2009

Knowing God, by JI Packer ?????

I had read this book before, but, being in Bangladesh, I had finished all the books that I had brought along. Glancing over the guest house library, I was left with only a few choices of books that grabbed my attention. I decided that it was time to re-read Knowing God. Having taken a class in systematic theology from Dr. Packer, it was like hearing him afresh, and he writes very similar to the manner in which he speaks. The book is composed of three parts. The first part argues for the necessity of getting to know God better, and the possibility of doing that through Scripture. The second is an exposition on the attributes of God, His wisdom, strength, holiness, and wrath, to name a few. Finally, the third part discusses what God has done for us, including propitiation of our sins, adoption as children. The second read was many years after the first, but read quite freshly. Packer is an extremely capable writer, and this book is an especially worthy of repeated re-reads. Packer calls for a holiness and zeal for God in the Christian life that should be normative for all Christians. This book is not only basic doctrine, but much deeper exploration of our position in Christ. It is not a light read. It cannot be read in a night or two. Packer is thick. And rich. Knowing God is a gold mine worthy of multiple reads by all Christians.

 

On Duty in Bangladesh

April 17th, 2009

On Duty in Bangladesh, by Jeannie Lockerbie ??

I previously reviewed the book Daktar, which is the story of the founding of the Malumghat Hospital, where we currently are working. This book is the blow by blow details from the eyes of Jeannie Lockerbie, a nurse who was working in Chittagong for the same mission agency at the time of the Independence of Bangladesh. It is actually a stirring story, and witness to God’s provision and protection during a very troubling and dangerous episode in the history of this part of the world. I will save details of the story, since the book is worth reading. What I didn’t like about the book was the heavy dependence on simply experiential accounting of the battle for independence. I really don’t care to know when Jeannie took a shower, or precisely what she ate on a certain day, or what sort of can she had to eat out of. Jeannie also fragments the story line with multiple accounts that do not read chronologically making it a bit tough for someone unfamiliar with the events she is describing. I would have liked to have heard an analysis of exactly what was happening on the world stage, minor details of the Bangladeshi battle movements or Bangladeshi political analysis, etc., etc. Jeannie also assumes that you know certain things about Bangladesh that you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t lived there. In the end, I’m not left much better informed about the nature of the Bangladeshi Independence nor the life of the church outside of Jeannies’ small circle in Bangladesh during the time of this story. This book contains no character development, and save for the fact that Jeannie attended a Methodist nursing school in New York, I know very little about her or what were the driving factors in her life outside of her Christianity. She offers minimal insight and foresight into situations, and thus seems to be a one-dimensional character, responding to a tragic situation, but not necessarily in an entirely Christian fashion. How so? Perhaps she should have read the life of Mohatmas  Ghandi, or the manner in which Martin Luther handled the peasant revolt. Jeannie seems to confuse Christianity and nationalism, and while wanting to emphasize the difference between political freedom and freedom in Christ to the Bengali people, fails to be convincing. She has no answer to the Christian “freedom fighter” who attends church and then blows up bridges and kills rather than loves the enemy. There is no word of love for the enemy, or of reaching out neutrally to the Pakastani in love, in offering “blind” medical care to all including the wounded Pakistani. Even the closing phrase of the book says in one breath “Victory to Bangladesh- victory to Jesus”. Such a statement creates a dangerous mix of politics and American-style Christianity. It is this same thinking that explains why the predominantly Muslim Bengalis could now treat the Hindus and Hill Tract people with the same mercilessness that they received from the hands of their Pakistani rulers.

All said and done, the casual reader might assume that this is a character assassination. God forbid. The book review section attempts to look at books as literary pieces, analyzing the book for its prose style, readability and quality of the story line, etc. This book, in spite of its problems, is a reflection on a truly saintly person, engaged in a most saintly commission.  This is an example of one of many of the people I have met in Bangladesh that tirelessness and without complaint forsake family and home, the comforts of America and friends, to live in a weary land, laboring under the most adverse conditions to bring hope and Christ to the Bengali people. Thus, a good book, but only two stars.

 

Siddhartha

April 16th, 2009

16APR2009 Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse ????

This is a dual-language book, with one side of the page in the original German, and the other side in a reasonably good English translation. I was able to read first the German, and then to check whether I properly caught the original meaning (assuming a good translation). Hesse was certainly deserving of the Nobel Prize in literature, as he writes well, and it is a shame for those that can only read this text in English. It is the story of  Siddartha, a boy from a well-to-do Indian family, who decides to become an ascetic. He leaves home with his friend Govinda, practicing meditation and fasting according to the style of Hindu ascetics. After 3 years, he goes to meet the Buddha, but abandons his friend Govinda and runs off to live a life of luxury, with plentiful wealth and sex. He is successful, but the voices of the past call him back to the ascetic life. He is discovered by the river by his old friend Govinda, who goes on. Siddartha ends up living with a ferryman. Ultimately, the main courtesan that he was seeing in times of wealth comes to him, bringing an 11 year old son, but dying on the spot from a snake bite (a little bit Hollywood-ish). The son ends up being a total brat that eventually runs away. Siddartha’s ferryman companion dies, and Siddartha soon becomes known as the sage of the river. This fame leads Govinda to seek out this sage and getting advice from him. The advice ends up being the opposite of what the Buddha had taught him, and the book ends.

Not being a Hindu/Buddhist scholar, it would be difficult for me to ascertain how closely Siddartha follows eastern teaching. Hesse did grow up in India, so that there is reason to believe that there might be moderate corollary in teaching. If so, eastern philosophy seems to be a total contradiction of truth. Thus, there is given no ground for belief in morals, for belief in objectivity, or, for belief in anything. Yet, the religion produces sages that speak profoundly, or behave profoundly. This seems to be a total contradiction, since, if truth is non-existent, to possibility of profound thought or action is impossible. Thus, it becomes a self-defeating religion.

Regarding criticism of the book, Hesse writes beautifully, though he does produce a rather contrived tale. It is a delightful story with abundant philosophical thought, though Hesse misses the mark oof making something inane into something profound. Thus, one star off from a five.

 

Biblical Theology

April 14th, 2009

Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments, by Geerhardus Vos ??

This book was sold as one of the classics of biblical theology. Vos was regarded as a foremost scholar of yesteryear. Thus, it seemed compelling to read. The book did have many gems and insights for me, but on the whole, it seemed to be more prolific than profound. As an illustration of the language used, I quote from the first paragraph of the New Testament section “If redemption and revelation form an organism, then, like every other organism, it should be permitted to reveal to us its own articulation, either by way of our observing it, or by our receiving from it the formula of its make-up, where at certain high-points it reaches a consciousness of its inner growth”. If Vos was attempting to be either scholarly or profound, he failed in both, by uttering an essentially meaningless statement.

Typically, I view the work of the biblical theologian as the person who would be writing individual book commentaries, or, perhaps, as Dr. Waltke has so marvelously in intelligently performed in an intelligible style, old testament surveys for summary themes and topics. Vos is excellent at confronting the liberal critics of the time, such as Wellhausen. Yet, I don’t expect a biblical theology text to be essentially a limited apologetic focused on certain well-defined topics. Also, the critics are somewhat dated, in that this book was written in 1929. In that Vos was concentrating on the nature of biblical revelation throughout the span of biblical history, he was behaving more like a systematic rather than a biblical theologian. Vos jumps somewhat sporatically throughout the Scriptures, though he remains chronological, picking and choosing discussion points, again, mostly related to the ongoing biblical criticism of the time. He covers the curses of Adam and Eve, the Noahic episode, the communication of law to Moses, the 8th century BC prophets, John the Baptist, and Christ, while leaving out discussions of the apostolic church, the late minor prophets, and many more biblical episodes.

Thus, I cannot recommend reading this book, save for historical interest. Vos is truly a scholar that many modern conservative scholars lean on, yet, he fails to provide a text that meets the title of the book, that is, a text that introduces one to the topic of biblical theology.

 

Mammut Comics

April 10th, 2009

10APR2009 Mammut Comics, Walt Disney ????

This is Donald Duck and Mickey Maus auf Deutsch (in German!). Make fun of me, but it is a great way to keep at least some tabs on the German language. The use of slang and colloquialisms make for great reading, and the few words I don’t know can be figured out from the illustrations and the context, allowing for reading with minimal use of a dictionary. It’s a great way to stay on top of a language.

 

Molecular Biology of Cancer

April 4th, 2009

Molecular Biology of Cancer, by Lauren Pecorino ???

This is a standard textbook of molecular biology with a focus on cancer, and cell regulatory processes. It was written by a British researcher. The book is well organized, succinct, with many helpful blips or recommendations for learning the subject better. It is ideal for student use as a first exposure to the subject. Much effort was spent at discussing the process of cancer research, as well as the clinical application of what we know. My main problems with the book were 1) simplification for teaching purposes often led to too simple of explanation of pathways. He would usually only discuss regulatory pathways that currently were hot for research purposes, rather than including at least a hint of the multiple known pathways. Thus, he was moderately incomplete as a reference text. 2) He frequently appealed to the internet or to reference papers. That is great for the budding young scientist, but not for use as a reference text in your library. We purchase textbooks, expecting them to serve as reasonable summaries of known knowledge. Thus, other textbooks on the molecular biology of cancer serve this purpose better than Pecorino’s text. Of interesting note in the profound complexity of regulatory pathways, of which these pathways become more or more complex over time. It seems like we have just scratched the surface of understanding what makes a cell tick. I find it deeply troubling that scientists in one breath can talk about these impossibly complex systems, yet in the next breath suggest their accidental evolution. Which is one reason why I love science–it continually attests to a Creator.

 

The Revenge of Conscience

April 3rd, 2009

The Revenge of Conscience, by J. Budziszewski ????

My intention was to start the book Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos. The read started out a little thicker than I anticipated. Hopefully, I will be able to review that book within the next month. Dr. Jason Lattin at Malumghat Major Medical Center loaned me this book while over to dinner. Thus, the read. From the stars, you might properly deduct that I thoroughly agreed with Dr. Lattin’s assessment of the text. I would have given this book 5 stars, save for three minor issues which will be discussed later. First, the strengths of the book. Budziszewski is an excellent communicator that writes with a heightened style, which does not lend to a lightning read. Each page is thick, and to progressively pondered. Budziszewski is a political scientist that teaches in Austin, TX, and orients the text on a series of loosely connected essays about politics and Christian faith. The first chapter deals with defining the moral situation in the USA, titled “The Fallen City”. He uses this chapter as a general introduction to the rest of the book. The second chapter, named “The Revenge of Conscience”, discusses the role in natural law in bringing about much of the public dynamics that we observe. Subsequent chapters work through the problem of neutrality, of issue of virtue and vice in politics, and of the Christian approach to “communitarianism”. The last three chapters discuss the issues of the problem with liberalism, followed by the problem with conservatism, followed by an indepth psychological explanation of the pro-death movement. It is these last three chapters that offer the greatest strength to this text, dismantling notions that either political movement is more or less Christian than the other. In an epilogue, Budziszewski offers suggestions for presenting the truth in the public square, by challenging the false notions of either the right or the left. Disagreements? 1) I am a touch uncomfortable with where Budziszewski runs with the notion of natural law. Is natural law really as usable as he proposes to explain the human situation? Perhaps. Yet, natural law tends to be used by (mostly) Catholic theologians to explain much more. I find it difficult to imagine that natural law could be used to order a common consensus of right and wrong, simply because since the human mind in fallen, we have not only a diminished conscience, but also a distorted conscience, from birth. Budziewski certainly realizes that, and yet plays out the role of natural law in a manner that other terminology could have used and suffice. 2) Budziszewski sometimes swims in the wrong swimming pool. In his discussion of communitarianism, he offers that perhaps Stanley Hauerwas is the best example of ideal communitarianism. Having read much Hauerwas, I note that Hauerwas has much to offer, yet much that can be criticized, which would be inappropriate to labor over in this review. 3) Budziszewski offers poor explanation as to the ideal politic. What should be the model for a Christian Volk? He remains silent, and focuses only on one issue, the pro-life issue. Is there an ideal politic prescribed in Scripture, or, is the Bible silent? I argue that there is a politic, which God prescribed to Israel. To what extent and in what manner these laws apply to our society remain an issue for public and theological debate, yet the information is there to discuss and measure us as a society.

 

The Prodigal God

March 27th, 2009

The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller ????

This book was read at the recommendation of Pastor David Scott, and a good recommendation it was. I had already read another book by Tim Keller, and found this text about as enjoyable. Keller takes the parable of the Prodigal Son, and expounds on the two sons and the nature of God in both instances. The nature of the sons are discussed as fitting the character of many that we find in church, yet both are offensive to God. Interestingly, both are offensive to those who are exploring the nature of Christianity, and happen to visit a church. This book is a lesson in our attitude toward God, not expecting God to bless us simply because we serve him better than others, or because we deserve it. Keller starts the book out slow, and builds steam, taking until the last chapter to discuss the true implications to the Prodigal Son narrative. In that chapter, he details how God has a great feast preserved for us, and welcomes us. Yet, this feast will be enjoyed by neither the younger nor elder son, but by those who come to the feast on God’s terms for His sake, and not ours. This is a short book, that can be read in 1-2 sittings, and a worthy volume to have digested.

 

Intelligent Design 101

March 26th, 2009

Intelligent Design 101 – General Editor H. Wayne House ?????

This was a delightful compendium of various authors in the Intelligent Design movement, displaying a broad summary, from the science to legal aspects of what is occurring in ID. The writing was quite variable, but still broadly high quality. Most the writing was a re-hash of writings I’ve read before, some of which was very readable, such as Michael Behe’s chapter, others a little more ponderous, such as Casey Luskin delving into the science of evolution vs. ID. I had not read Luskin before, and found him to be rather perceptive, offering new insights. Luskin was able to discuss beyond the issues of irreducible complexity, to discuss the issue of convergence, where similar functions co-develop independent of each other, a event with prohibitively low probability of happening just by accident. He also discussed issues arising from the crisis of Linnean (morphological) and genetic family trees being moderately dissimilar, suggestive that perhaps it is not a tree-like evolutionary scheme, but rather parallel developmental processes from various species to the next. The writers never lapse into the Creation Science Research mold of a young earth, but remain independent of the exact nature of the intelligence that may have brought about the world that we see. The final appendix was a rebuttal of Francis Collin’s text on random evolution of monkeys into man, pointing out his errors in suggesting that such evolution was only accidental. All in all, a worthy read.

 

Why the Universe is the Way it Is

March 20th, 2009

Why the Universe is the Way it Is, the Hugh Ross ???

Hugh Ross is the founding father of the organization called Reasons to Believe, and has training as an astronomer. In this text, he details the immense precision of multiple variables required in the founding of the universe following the big bang that would have permitted an environment that was favorable for life. Ross discusses in broad terms the mathematical possibility of the current universe. He details the size, age, and other characteristics of the current universe, identifying only a narrow window of “opportunity” for life to have arisen in the universe. Through it all, he concludes for the extreme unlikeliness that such an event could have happened solely by chance. Unfortunately, most of the evidence given was discussed in very broad, non-scientific terms, and that reference was made that the evidence was detailed on a web-site. That’s fair, but I had expected a touch better discussion than he offers in the book. This book is an “ok” read for a non-scientific mind, but for the one searching for a touch more detailed explanation, this book fails. Ross does offer discussion at the end of the book on the theological implications of the current creation, as to why we are not in a perfect universe, but that we can expect one to come. Based on descriptions in Revelations, Ross offers conjectures as to the nature and physics of the new heaven and earth.

 

The Cell’s Design

March 18th, 2009

The Cell’s Design, by Fazale Rana ? ? ? ?

In this book, Rana details how various complexities in cell design and function suggest most strongly for an intelligent designer. Rana takes a different approach from classic intelligent design pundits by not quoting probabilities and statistics, but rather, by looking at various nuances in our biological knowledge to argue against an accidental origin to like. An example of what he gives is the prolific observation of convergence. This is where certain enzymes have “evolved” at least twice by different pathways, and yet perform similar functions. This would be considered highly unlikely to occur by accident. Rana speaks about how various pathways that were thought to be highly inefficient and thus suggestive against an intelligent designer, where actually shown to be pathways that were the best design. This is perhaps an opposite analogy to the “god-of-the-gaps” explanation which fills God into unexplained scientific knowledge. Rana’s writing style is at times quite simplistic, but at times, he does pass me by briefly, even though I am rather knowledgeable in cell biology. Thus, I’m not entirely sure who would make the best audience for this book. It is unlike the bookDarwin’s Black Box, which can be read by lay and biological scientist alike with full understanding of the argument. Rana makes excellent arguments for the plausibility of intelligent design. Thus, he proves a reasonable argument for a Creator that demands answer from those who suggest life to be an entirely random process.

 

In My Place Condemned He Stood

March 16th, 2009

In My Place Condemned He Stood, JI Packer and Mark Dever ?????

This book resurrects a number of writings that have already been published in the past regarding the doctrine of penal substitution and propitiation. Unfortunately, it is a topic that has gone by the wayside on pulpits, so most Christians would look at you clueless as to exactly what you were talking about. Unfortunately, these doctrines are the absolute center of Christian orthodoxy, making Christianity different from all the other regions of the world, including Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., and also different from the whole of Christian cults or sects, such as Mormonism or JWism, or Christian Science. These doctrines were re-acknowledged by Martin Luther and John Calvin, which fueled the reformation. Yet, such doctrines go as a mystery among most Christians. Most of the chapters are requotes from classic JI Packer, including a chapter out of Knowing God, his preface from Death of Death by John Owen, and several other writings. The book is followed by an excellent reference list of further reading on the topic. One of the chapters by Packer is a touch technical, otherwise, the book should be approachable by most people grounded in the faith. It is a very worthwhile read.

 

The Reason For God

February 20th, 2009

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller ????

I typically don’t read recently published books, but many people recommended this book, and so I felt it deserved a quick read. It is an argument for belief in God, written by a pastor, and thus has a very pastoral feel to it, rather than a seasoned and sealed argument that one might find from the pen of a philosopher, such as Francis Schaeffer. Keller is the Pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in NYC, and much of the book entails conversations and questions asked by members of his congregation. Keller quotes CS Lewis in every chapter, and his argument has a strong flavor of CS Lewis. The book is divided into two parts, the first being an argument for the existence of God against the common accusations, such as, science has disproved God, the Bible could not possibly be accurate, aren’t all relgions correct and lead to God, how could Christianity be true and yet the Christian church so evil, how could God and evil both exist, etc., etc. The second part is more an appeal to the reasonableness of faith, including reasons why Christianity offers the best answers to the dilemmas of man, such as sin, evil, value, morality, and meaning in life. The books’ strongest chapter is the last and is not even titled a chapter, but Epilogue-Where do We Go from Here, where Keller argues for a move of each individual, Christian and skeptic alike, to the call of the Cross and resurrection  of Christ.

 

Guilty

February 12th, 2009

Guilty, by Ann Coulter ???

I didn’t want to give Ann three stars, as she deserves 5 for all the work she went through compiling this book. But then, this book kind of wears on you. In fact, I didn’t finish it, because it seems to just make the same point again and again and again and again. It’s like reading assembly language code–it ends up being nothing but ones and zeros, even though it may be coding something quite significant. Coulter’s thesis is correct regarding media bias and serious bias of the left. Her approach to resolution is rather caustic, and more fitting for a lawyer (which she is) than for a real person. Her book is a  perfect example of having a correct thesis but a wrong approach to stating that thesis. She does make a true point about liberals. But then, she casts liberals into a single confined mold, which I don’t think is appropriate. Liberals tend to be correct on many issues that seem to escape Ann. Thus, Ann gets only three stars.

 

Momo

February 9th, 2009

Momo, by Michael Ende ????

Momo is a children’s book, written entirely in German, by the same author that wrote The Never Ending Story. It is the tale of a small orphan girl living alone in the ruins of an ancient city, adjacent to a large modern city. Over the course of the story, she encounters the Die Graue Herren, the grey men, who go around stealing time from people. In the process, everybody becomes too busy for everything, and has no time for relationships. Momo is eventually able to determine how to fight the grey men through the help of a tortoise and Prof. Hora, and give civilization  its time back. It’s a cute story, written for about the 8th grade level, which is also essentially my level for reading without the excessive use of a dictionary. Mr. Ende tends to have a socialist slant towards life, reflective in this writing, but he does drive home the truth that honesty and loving relationships are more important than wealth and efficiency. Ende’s book doesn’t end with balance, and doesn’t show that both efficiency and relationships are important – it’s an either/or situation for him. His book makes the strongest statement against the state efficiency of the East German government and regimes of the like.

 

English Standard Version Bible

December 8th, 2008

English Standard Version Bible  ??????????

As mentioned elsewhere on this website, I read the bible through and through every year. It’s the only thing I would ever give more than five stars to. It’s a perfect 10. Usually I read a different version or translation every year, and this year, it was the ESV. I particularly like the ESV because it is easy reading that flows well, uses modern English, and I know a number of the translators, including JI Packer (I took a systematic theology class from him), Jack Collins (he came out of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma and frequently visits), and Max Rogland (also from Faith Pres, and a good friend), to name just a few. But…. what about the rating. Actually, I don’t dare rate Scripture, since it usually rates me. Simply put, I consider the Bible as the infallible conversations of God with man. And, God is not silent. In fact, he is quite talkative, if we bother to listen to him through the means that he has provided in the Bible. The Scriptures authenticate that man is not the measure of all things, but rather that God provides an infinite, personal reference point for all measurements, whether they be physical, moral, ethical, or epistemologic. Communication is not a failed venture (see below) because God as The Infinite communicates to man. Thus, infinite truths might be spoken truly but not comprehensively to finite minds such as ours. We have the capability of knowing true truth through God’s communication with man and through our observation of the world. Those truths will not be exhaustive, and often distorted by our fallen minds, but that is not a reason for a fatalistic view that truth cannot be known. To quote the wisest of all men, Solomon noted that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

 

2 Days that Ruined your Health Care

November 20th, 2008

20NOV2008 – 2 Days that Ruined your Health Care, William Waters III, MD ?????

I had started to type up a paper for publication documenting my frustrations with the health care system when I received this book in the mail. After reading it, I realized that Dr. Waters had discussed about half of my contentions with the system. He is a nephrologist that practiced in the Atlanta, Georgia region for a number of years, and remains an academic type at Emory University. The two days are 1) 02OCT1942 when congress voted to allow employers to deduct health care premiums from employee’s taxable income, and 2) 10APRIL1965, when LBJ signed the Medicare law into existence. Owing to those events, Water’s shows how government then had the ability to slowly take over health care. This has led to government control of all aspects of health care, regulated by politicians and beaurocrats who nothing about daily health care delivery determining minute policies that regulate your behavior and practices in the office. The book details how government intervention has lead to increased prices for health care, now making most health care expenses out of the range of the average citizen. He finally discusses the role health savings plans and other solutions to the system. My only disappointment with the book is that he omitted several other important factors that are also of great importance, including 1) the loss of morality in the profession (most doctors would not take the oath of Hippocrates anymore), the loss of purpose in our profession, 2) the crass commercialization of medicine, starting when the AMA caved in to the Feds in the 1970’s to the issue of physician advertising, 3) the litigation scene forcing increased costs, regulation and costly physician behavior, and 4) increasing demands and expectations of many patients resulting in a health care fantasy that progressively forces all the other above problems. Eventually, patients will get what they are willing to pay for… just take a close look at health care in England or Canada. I disagree with Waters in that I do not see health care in the US as being in a state of being able to be fixed. It is time for physicians to quit being sacrificial lambs to the system, let the state have their healthcare, and hope that a better system could possibly rise from the ashes.

 

Inside Islam

November 12th, 2008

Inside Islam, Reza Safa ????

Seeking further insights into the Islam mind, I decided to read this book, which was written by a former militant Shiite Muslim, but converted to the Christian faith. Safa takes a fairly even-handed approach, going light on his Muslim brothers and sisters, which speaking of the inconsistencies of the Islam faith that drove him to Christianity.  I appreciated the book because it was not only easy to read, but contained a tone of writing that left you feeling you talking directly to Reza. What he says seemed to be coming from his heart and emotions, rather than just an emotional diatribe or intellectual comparison of the Islam vs. Christian faith. He was especially able to address the Christian hypocrisy which seems to rule in the West. Apparently, he has Pentecostal leanings. I take it, he now is living  in Norway. His English is superb. His heart for reaching out to Muslims is contagious.

 

The Heart of Evangelism

November 5th, 2008

The Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs ?????

I was given this book, since it is currently being used for the Sunday School class at church. At first, I was reluctant to read the book. I had heard Jerram Barrs speak in the past, and he definitely was dreadfully boring. This book is everything but boring. Barrs is definitely a better writer than he is a speaker. Jerram comes out of the L’Abri movement of Francis Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential people in my life, influencing my thought quite profoundly during college years. Jerram addresses the issues of talking about your faith to other people, not like any other “evangelism” text I’ve ever read so far (which is really not many). Throughout the book, one can see the thinking of F. Schaeffer coming through, though with Barr’s distinct style. Schaeffer speaks of pre-evangelism, but Jerram gives concrete meaning to the term. He especially emphasizes the nature of Christ’s teaching while on earth, which though harsh with Pharisees and those who are self-righteous in established religion, was as gentle as a lamb and never insulting, demeaning, or harsh to the “man-on-the-street”. Through it all, Jerram emphasizes that it is not our skills of persuasion that lead people to faith, but rather the Holy Spirit working in peoples’ lives.

 

Who Told You that You Were Naked

November 4th, 2008

Who Told You that You Were Naked, Victor Schlatter ??

I first met Vic Schlatter in 1969, when he had come home from furlough to the mission field. Vic was a energetic, and very magnetic personality, with a tremendous amount of smarts. Before becoming a missionary to the New Guinea Waola tribe, he had worked at Hanford as a nuclear chemist.

In this book, Vic covers some of his pet peeves, including the media bias, organized religion, feminism, political correctness, and the new world order. He does this is a quasi-historical fashion. Vic is not very straight-forward in his writing, putting on paper more the ramblings that would happen if he were speaking to you. All of his writing is laced with constant dry humor, which keeps you reading. Vic seems to have two special theses that he always driving home.

The first is the “Aristotleanization” of organized (and unorganized) contemporary religion. I remember him speaking about the influence of Aristotle on the church even in 1969, so, he hasn’t gotten this off of his mind. Unfortunately, he doesn’t define exactly the nature of this influence, and I remain hard pressed to understand. Certainly, we can blame Thomas Aquinas. But we also have to blame Plato, who, through Plotinus, was a heavy influence on Augustine, and thus the rest of Christendom. Vic tries to “de-Greek-ize” Christianity, which is unfortunately an impossibility, since even the New Testament writers were heavily influenced by their Greek world. As an example, Paul, John  and Peter write instructional letters to various churches, which was unheard of before certain Epicurian philosophers. It is a mistake to define orthodoxy as strictly abiding to a Hebrew mind-set.

So, Vic lapses into his constant and persistent rhetoric regarding the superior and transcendent nature of the Jewish. Now, I certainly have an appreciation for Jews, and have many good friends who are also Jewish, but I don’t view that as making the person any more special than any other race or color of skin on earth. I certainly hold that it is possible that in an age to come, a special relationship with God is again formed, but certainly don’t see that in the current age. Indeed, the Jews are living outside of the Covenant of their own Scriptures, and so stand condemned by God.

I met Vic recently at a funeral of a mutual friend, and inquired of his eschatological stance. He seemed to reject dispensationalism, yet his book still seems to drift toward a style of post-tribulational dispensationalism, though he never mentions a millenium. Perhaps his absence of clarity is Vic’s attempt to “de-Aristotle-ize” and to “Waola-ize” himself. Certainly, his view of the anti-Christ seems to drift from classic dispensational teaching. I would have liked to pick Vic’s mind more as to his true stance. All in all, I found Schlatter’s book entertaining but not terribly informative.

 

Dark Side of Islam

October 25th, 2008

The Dark Side of Islam, R.C. Sproul & Abdul Saleeb ??

This book, written by the well-known theologian R.C. Sproul and an ex-radical Muslim, A. Saleeb, actually talks very little about the dark side of Islam. It is mostly a conversation between the two authors regarding some of the theological differences between the Islam and Christian faith, mostly dealing with the nature of God, sin, salvation, and the person and work of Christ. I found it containing only limited information, and thus not terribly helpful for my poor inquisitive mind, which is asking for a more precise analysis of Islam/Christian differences, which tend to be quite significant. Since I’m now reading “Answering Islam” by Norman Geisler, I might have my questions answered.

 

Geschichte der deutschen Literatur

September 15th, 2008

Geschichte der deutschen Literatur, Manfred Mai ???

Manfred Mai is a children’s author, and writes about the 8th grade level, so is quite easy for me to read. The other text of his that I have read was the History of Germany, and was quite enjoyable. This was easy to read when Mai was writing, but he includes numerous excerpts, of which multiple writing styles were employed, proving to be a serious challenge to my ability to comprehend. He also spends a little too much time with modern authors—I would have preferred more attention to the classic German literature. All in all, the book was informative, and a decent survey of the breadth of literature in the German tongue.

 

Just Keep Pedaling

September 4th, 2008

Just Keep Pedaling, by T.E. Trimbath ?

This book is the story of some dude who works for Boeing and lives in Seattle, who takes the autumn off to ride his bicycle diagonally across America. With a 1 week interruption because of a broken bicycle in Oklahoma, and a year interruption in Pensacola, Florida because of the depletion of funds, he finally makes it to the Florida Keys and then back home. There are many aspects of his trip that I thought were a touch bizarre. He undertakes this entire venture on a bicycle very poorly designed to do this trip. He rides the interstate highway system preferentially. He limits his nights only to motels/hotels, and eats at mostly fast-food restaurants. The account of his travel is told in an awkward fashion, corrected only when he recalls the Florida leg of his venture–each day is started by an e-mail note for the day, and then reiterated in a slightly more expansive form in his general narrative. Thus, you were constantly reading the same account twice over. Better editing would have eliminated that problem. The final insights that you achieve from such an adventure are somewhat skewed by the odd nature in which he did cross-country bicycle travel. His insights are helpful in telling you what helped make the trip a success, and how the over-arching principle was the need for determination to endure in a bicycle saddle for months at a time through the extremes of weather and traffic conditions. His personal style does add to some pleasure to reading his tale, but this book never really gave me the insights was was looking for in deciding whether to perform a similar venture.

 

Introduction to the Old Testament

August 23rd, 2008

An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman III and Raymond Dillard ????

Longman & Dillard, both from respectable conservative Reformed seminaries, provide a modern review of the OT, with insights on current academic thinking regarding the source and interpretation of each of the 39 books of the OT. It is an encyclopedic style text, though designed for a standard through-read by poor seminary students. I have mixed feelings about this text, with both good and bad feelings. I certainly would NOT advise this text as the sole OT textbook for seminary studies. The strength of the book is its organization, in that each chapter works through a successive book of the OT, systematically discussing a global overview of the book, references, a literary analysis, historical background, theological message, and finally orientation toward the NT. The text was strong in pointing out the current status of scholarly thinking, including higher form-criticism of the books, and discussion of possible authorship of each book of the OT. Compared to other conservative surveys of the Old Testament, I deeply appreciated the academic approach of L&D, and enjoyed exploring the status of academic scholarship, liberal and conservative, on the study of the Old Testament. Too many textbooks of this sort offer a brief textual criticism, then plunge into a variable-depth survey of the contents of each book of scripture, leaving one with minimally more insight than one could get by simply just reading the text. The books’ weakness is in providing a very poor conservative response to the liberal critics. Oftentimes, idle liberal speculation is given play, without barely a response. This is true of the liberal approach to many of the OT books, who suggest that differing literary styles in the various portions of the book, including Song of Solomon, Isaiah and Zechariah, as a few examples, imply fragmentary assemblage of the biblical text by various authors in various time periods. Such speculation has minimal grounding and a cold assumption that authors never write in differing styles throughout their life. L&D allow liberal assumptions to hold credibility, including a supposition that predictive prophecy could not occur, miracles could not happen, the Scriptures must be inherently inaccurate, and that propositional inspired truth is a fairy-tale. I also had serious problems with some of the theological conclusions of Longman and Dillard, such as their statement that Ecclesiastes was essentially uninspired and  and not useful for instruction in holy living. Sorry L&D, but you some help in better seeing the vast wisdom of scripture. In summary, this text was an enjoyable (though lengthy) read, with disappointments that the authors could have made this a much stronger text without much additional effort. I would hope that conservative scholarship identify the vacuous nature of liberal scholarship as L&D have done, but not take it quite as serious as L&D do in this text. I would compare this OT scholarship to the new-think of the Jesus Seminars, which really is too fanciful and speculative to even demand that serious scholarship provide detailed rebuttals to their ungrounded speculations.

 

The Essential Touring Cyclist

August 19th, 2008

The Essential Touring Cyclist, by Richard Lovett  ?????

I’ve considered the possibility of doing some bicycle touring, and so purchased this text to get the low and skinny, as it was fairly high-rated on Amazon.com. It is a fairly basic but well-written book that is easy to read, always applicable, with many helpful hints as to how to survive out there on a bicycle. It covers most expected topics, such as how to choose a touring bicycle, what bags to get for the bike and what to put in them, how to survive the long road, and how to plan a trip, including possible European trips. The book is an excellent choice for anybody just starting out on cycle touring.

 

Ice Bound

August 15th, 2008

Ice Bound, by Dr. Jerri Nielson ?

I was loaned this book by our practice manager as a book that she felt I would enjoy reading. It’s the story of a lady who becomes an ER physician with a completely dysfunctional life, deciding to escape by being a doctor in the South Pole American research station, only to discover that she had a breast cancer. She instituted chemotherapy before being evacuated for definitive care. There are a number reasons why I disliked the book. 1) Mushy details — I don’t care what a person ate at a given time, or the little trivia of survival on the south pole. Compare it to Messner, who mentioned as an afterthought that he lost a few toes on a climb where he also lost his brother. 2) Letters, letters, letters. The correspondence was meaningless to me, and didn’t contribute to the flow of the book. 3) Stories of cancer, and medicine make me nauseated. 4) This is not a story of Dr. Jerri’s heroism, but the heroism of the rascals who had to airdrop the chemotherapy, and then eventually fly in to evacuate her.  5) Details of the South Pole station were practically missing. What research were they doing there? How many people? From where? Etc. Many details that would have made the book more fascinating were missing. Don’t waste your money on this book – it’s not worth reading.

 

Free Spirit

July 9th, 2008

Free Spirit-A Climbers Life, by Reinhold Messner ?????

A wonderful and spell-bounding read on most certainly the greatest climber of the 20th century, Messner accounts in short chapters, a brief reflection on his most significant climbs, and the philosophy of climbing that he created, that of minimalist techniques, eliminating the use of siege techniques and bottled oxygen to achieve the highest peaks in the world, which would later become the accepted norm by even climbers like Ed Viesturs. Messner is the veritable opposite of Viesturs, constantly taking risks, and constantly re-defining the art of climbing. Viesturs would attack a mountain by it’s simplest route, while Messner by its most creative permissible route, often solo. The only thing in common was mental fortitude of push for limits that few other people in the world could do, and incredible luck. Messner did not need a reason or justification for climbing, and admits that it was a combination of shear joy mixed with merciless addiction that kept him pushing for more difficult, in not impossible, routes up a cliff or mountain. He truly will remain one of the greatest climbers of all time.

 

No Shortcuts to the Top

July 6th, 2008

No Shortcuts to the Top, by Ed Viesturs ???

This book is an autobiography of the life of Ed Viesturs, mostly detailing the events that led to him becoming a Himalayan climber, as well as achieving the peaks of the World’s 14 8000 meter peaks. Such is an astonishing accomplishment, especially since he did each of those peaks without the use of additional bottled oxygen. Apparently, he is now off to other adventures. Ed started out as a veterinarian, but worked summers during veterinarian school as a guide on Mt. Rainier. Eventually, he was invited to accompany an group to the Himalayas on the climb of Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. This eventually led to his quest for all 14 – 8000ers. Throughout, Ed details his family life, and philosophy of climbing, life, and the world in general. This is where an otherwise fascinating story turns the book into an autobiography that will soon be forgotten. Ed’s final justification for his endeavor is that he can now motivate people, and has been hired by sports teams and major corporations to get their employees to work harder at less pay in order to achieve their “Everest”. For me, it’s a rather shallow raison d’être. For Viesturs, god becomes some amorphous other, best described by the Buddhist leaning toward Animism. Here is a man who knows little about the daily grind, waking up morning after morning, years on end to provide for family and community. He did motivate me in one way through this book. I will take off the next 18 years of my life, hiking, playing, and being my personal best, and then write a book about it. Please take this tongue-in-cheek. The bottom line take-home message of the book for me, is that 1) Ed is a really nice guy, 2) Ed really likes his family, and 3) Ed likes to be alone, away from family, as much as possible, proving to the world that nice guys can climb mountains and do hard things. Don’t get me wrong, few people in the world could have ever done what Ed has done, and I admire his penchant for caution, safety, and willingness to help others out of trouble. Perhaps Ed would best serve humankind by opening a Himalayan climbing school, to motivate and provide the skills for others to repeat what he has done.

 

Hiking the Triple Crown

June 15th, 2008

Hiking the Triple Crown, by Karen Berger  ????

The reader may first wonder what the triple crown is. Simply, it is the combination of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. All three trails go from (roughly) Mexico to Canada. They all present separate challenges, especially with the Continental Divide Trail being as of yet not fully developed. In this book, the author suggests strategies for organizing and hiking the trails, each of which can be expected to take 4-5 months to accomplish. The author then offers very brief trail descriptions to permit the reader a global idea as to what hiking each of the trails may demand and offer. I find the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail the most appealing, and perhaps the Colorado-> north section of the CDT. Perhaps it is time to kiss the hospital a hearty adieu and accomplish now what, in ten-twenty years, I may not be physically able to accomplish. Betsy sounds interested. Hey, why not?

 

The Third Paradigm

June 8th, 2008

The Third Paradigm, God and Government in the 21st Century, by Mark Ludwig ??

I’ve had many discussions with brother Dennis regarding the nature of government and the response of a Christian man to government. This is apparently Ludwig’s magnus opus on civil government, which he defines as properly being a theocracy. Ludwig being of theonomist roots, I am not surprised. This also makes me underwhelmed at Ludwig’s arrogance and demeaning stance toward those that don’t see precisely the same way that he does. Clearly, Ludwig has solved the nature of church, state and the individual, that 6 millenia of both the greatest and worst thinkers have not been able to resolve. I am not trying to be too hard on Ludwig, but his stylistic mannerisms, though fitting to the age of John Calvin, just don’t fly in the 21st century. Perhaps I sat too long under the tutelage (directly and indirectly) of JI Packer, Bruce Waltke and Simon Kistemacher, who tend to be both scholarly and graceful, while preserving hardcore Christian truth. Back to Ludwig. I don’t deny Ludwig’s thesis that every Christian man must first hold God as his King, and achieve his daily marching orders from the Scriptures. How we interact with the governments that be are another issue. Ludwig has responded by moving to where there is essentially minimal government–I suppose he views that as an act of piety. I certainly agree with Ludwig’s view of a minimal government, but feel that others such as Ron Paul do a much better job of beating the war drum of smaller government. Ludwig’s book starts out with a history of monarchical government down to our time, showing how it has failed man. Oddly, he doesn’t show how the Scriptures (oftentimes even within the same book, such as I Samuel, leading liberal scholars to divide the book into “priestly” and “kingly” authors later redacted into the form we have) tend to give both strong arguments for and against Monarchy. Secondly, Ludwig discusses the history of democracy and shows its failures. Again, Ludwig shies away from discussing the many attempts at establishing a theocracy on earth, mostly because most attempts either failed before they ever got started, or emerged into something quite horrid, such as many of the monastic movements. Ludwig then spends several chapters outlining specific civil law rulings, such as the order of state law in regard to marriage, property, war, judicial law, and slavery. Take slavery for instance. He uses the term loosely, defining such things as income taxation as a form of slavery. He argues for a biblical basis for slavery. Oddly, he is quick to defend slavery, without a word of mention of the form of slavery that we in modern times have seen, that of kidnapped slavery, which biblically is punishable by death. Yet, I have not seen Dabney or civil war Reformed thinkers bring slavery to task in such a way, always deferring only to the biblical permission for  slavery. All in all, Ludwig says nothing new, and clarifies no issues in my mind as to how a Christian may live in the world but not of the world. Ludwig has matters perfectly figured out in his mind, and to disagree means that you either do not possess his innate brilliance, or perhaps are just stubbornly wrong-headed. Nobody would win a debate against Mark. Too often, we use the defense that we take strong stances since we hold a high view of truth. Humility is left wanting. Mark would be best served by mellowing out a little, and realizing that many of us have serious problems with our democratic form of government, yet do not view the “revolutionary” response as that of leaving all forms of “worldly” government to form a theocracy. To Mark, I wish you the best.

 

Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

June 7th, 2008

Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, by Patrick Buchanan ?????

Patrick Buchanan has been an interesting character. I can’t say that I have ever voted for him for president, but have many agreements with him. This book is a relative diversion from the usual treatises of Buchanan, in that he engages himself strictly as a historian. I have blogged several months ago about issues which are now parroted in the volume. You may recall that I discussed  in the 06APR08 blog about the distorted priorities and values that the West held in WWI and II, which should be titled the second thirty years war against Germany. Buchanan outlines the bitterly disastrous foreign policy of Great Britain which in both instances could have prevented the war, and eliminated much greater evils. Buchanan outlines with extreme clarity the wanton hypocrisy of the West in accusing Germany of various sins, yet practicing far greater evils. Buchanan skillfully delineates the moral degeneracy of the West in the many of the war decisions, such as the decision to attack civilian populations in some sort of “retribution” for their war crimes. The author adeptly identifies the total duplicity of Churchill in accusing Chamberlain of “appeasement”, and yet being the greatest “appeaser” of the twentieth century, bringing more harm of countless millions from Churchillian appeasement to Stalin than Chamberlain ever caused. In all, Churchill is rightfully portrayed at the man, who, more than any other in the 20th century, could be responsible for the first and second world wars, as well as the cold war. In the end, Buchanan points out how Bushes’ foreign policy is paralleling the blundering decision making of Churchill, with the anticipated result than any sense of American hegemony in the world will be reduced, and that we can expect to see the USA reduced, like Britain, to a second rate nation among world powers. His advice should be well heeded. This is a must read book, highly informative, and quite powerful in undoing much of the propaganda we were taught as school children.

 

The Revolution

May 15th, 2008

The Revolution: A Manifesto, by Ron Paul ? ? ? ? ?

I’ve taken a break from reading larger texts, to read this book, which arrived a day before (I actually ordered 3 copies). I’m not much of a political wonk, usually hating the idea of politics, but, Ron Paul is a lonely exception. I supported Ron Paul before he ever became known to the public, voted for him for president, and will write his name in on the ballot, just to avoid whatever bimbos are put up by the Republicrats for us to vote for. Nothing doing! Dr. Paul covers 5 relevant areas. 1) Foreign policy – like many of my previous posts, Paul advocates getting out of everybody else’s space, 130 countries worth of space, to be exact. 2) Support for the constitution – Paul suggests that we return to taking the constitution seriously, rather than allowing politicians to delegitimize sections to meet their convenience or so called public need. 3) Economic freedom – Paul discusses the issue of removing the current tax structure, while concomitantly cutting back massive federal spending, 4) Civil liberties – Dr. Paul discusses how the use of such new institutions such as the Patriot act, government evesdropping, government regulation in health care, drugs, etc. have actually harmed more than helped Americans, and 5) Money – Dr. Paul discusses how the loss of the gold standard and absence of accountability of the federal reserve has led to a massive increase in the money supply while simultaneously devaluing money. All in all, the book is an easy read, and a must for anybody who really cares about the future of America. Dr. Paul is certainly correct in anticipating an eventual collapse of the system to which the feds will fix at the peril of even more of the freedoms that we currently cherish.

 

Translating Truth

March 31st, 2008

Translating Truth, Multiple Authors ????

This book is a discussion about theories of translation of the Scripture into the venacular, and is written by a group of most venerable scholars, most of whom were involved in the ESV translation, including JI Packer, Wayne Grudem, Leland Ryken, Jack Collins, Vern Poythress, and Bruce Winter. My interest in this book stemmed from multiple comments about the use of essentially literal vs. dynamic equivalent translation technique. The book was quite effective at persuading me about the value of essentially literal translation technique. I realize that there was a time when missionaries paid obeisance to dynamic equivalence, claiming that their audience would not understand various words such as “sheep” or “justification”. In the process, the gospel is dumbed down. Indubitably, many passages in Hebrew and Greek have double meanings, and perhaps both meanings are correct. Perhaps the original language is simply uninterpretable of challenging to understand; in those situations, the translator should not attempt to force on the reader a single interpretation. The book was quite readable, although I’m sure I would have understood it better with a better knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. Oh well.

 

The Climb

March 28th, 2008

The Climb – Tragic Ambitions on Everest, by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt ?????

Having just read “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, I felt it necessary to get another viewpoint of the 1996 Everest Tragedy. Krakauer certainly had a smoother writing style, though Boukreev remains the more believable author. Both detail the facts as they saw them that led to the death of six climbers on Everest in one day, though Boukrrev gives a far more plausible explanation as to the mistakes, and errors in judgment that occurred not only among the guides, but also among the clients in several expedition groups competing with each other for the summit of Everest. Errors is supply tactics, preparation of the client climbers, organization of Sherpas and other personnel, and overestimatation of ones’ own energy and endurance were skillfully laid out by Boukreev, but totally glossed over by Krakauer. Both books will hold you spellbound until the end–such an event needs no elaborate journalism to portray the hopes, the folly and the extreme conditions that all faced attempting to claim the distinction of having climbed the tallest mountain in the world. As for me, I’ll stay a little lower down on terra firma. If you had to choose between the two books, this would be the preferred.

 

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

March 17th, 2008

The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas Friedman ?

Initially, I was going to give this book a few more stars, until Tom grew a touch weary on me. For a journalist, Tommy boy remains a putative total expert on international economics, national economics, international relations, and is single handedly more responsible for world peace than any other journalist alive. He alone understands. So, what’s so good about this book? Mr. Friedman is a great story teller. He’s a journalist. It is delightful to learn that other countries behave in ways that are different than in Amerika, but, don’t worry, globalism will solve that. This book was moderately enjoyable to read, since Friedman is excellent in generating thought while reading this book, I was constantly awash of comments to write. Only a few will make this Kritik. Maybe the best criticism is that I have another best seller of T. F., “The World is Flat” setting next to me, which I don’t think I’ll waste my time reading… I have a reasonable feel as to Tom’s thinking and really don’t need any more of it. At first, you begin to feel that Tom is a right wing Republican. He advocates government non-intervention in the markets, and absence of trade barriers or restrictions. He advocates for morality as the principle fuel that drives a market, and absence of integrity as the prime extinguisher of globalization, thus, the term golden strait-jacket. So, you then learn that Friedman went through an evolution in learning to get to the truth, and this evolution came only through seeing such as the poor in Rwanda, which informed him that freshman Republicans had no clue at all about the world. Only Tom knows. Friedman fails to suggest whether he has reached any apogee of learning, or, perhaps, that he may have to unlearn certain things. Friedman need not travel in order to learn what his enlightened self now knows – the ride in Disneyland called “It’s a small small world” would have taught him everything he needed to know. His experience in Rwanda taught him the mistake of the second amendment ( right to bear arms) and necessity of governmental forced distribution of wealth. About the only conservative notion he doesn’t take shots at is abortion, which makes me quite surprised. Throughout the book, he makes quite asinine statements, such as the fact that Amerika has a huge bankruptcy rate is good thing, since is represents a system that tolerates mistakes (but no mention as to where that lost money came from?). He suggests that Europe, notably Germany and France are somewhat inferior to the US in market integrity (book written before the fall of Enron and bank failures of 2008, or the massive loss of value of the American dollar over the Euro). He supports market integrity without accepting that the individual integrity of a country’s citizens are perhaps the most valuable asset a country could ever have — personal integrity has no place in Friedman’s thesis. Globalism has it’s problems, and Friedman enumerates them, but concludes that globalism alone will save the world, especially poor, renegade countries. They need to speed up and make a flying leap onto the express ICE train flying by them. They need to accept that an intangible but totally irrational market, deeply controlled by hunches and propaganda, will influence their well-being significantly. Oddly, part of the reason I enjoy visiting Europe is that things are slower, and people thus think better. There is no greater joy than taking a lengthy stroll with Onkel Herbert to the Beergarten, and then solving all the world’s problems. Sadly, things will slow down, but in a totally cataclysmic way, especially for the USA, who, like Friedman, lusts for maintaining Amerikan world hegemony, at least in terms of markets. Friedman views the past as simply sentimentality (what’s old is mold, what’s new is true). Rather, I challenge that the book of Revelation talks quite plainly about globalization, since it has always existed in one form or another…

 

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory.  And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!…

For all nations have drunk

the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,

and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,

and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” …

And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.

They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,

you mighty city, Babylon!

For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls….

The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

“Alas, alas, for the great city

that was clothed in fine linen,

in purple and scarlet,

adorned with gold,

with jewels, and with pearls!

For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city

where all who had ships at sea

grew rich by her wealth!

For in a single hour she has been laid waste.   (excerpts of Rev 18 ESV)

 

Nobody would have thought that the Galilean  fisherman John would see the world so clearly as to predict global economic collapse, using Babylon as representative of world politics and commerce. So, we await the continued journey of Tommy Boy, and what new revelations will strike him in his visits to the ends of the earth. I’ll use others of lesser status, such as fishermen and tentmakers, to help define my Weltanschaaung.

 

 

Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills

March 12th, 2008

Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills, by Ed Pavelka and the editors of Bicycling Magazine  ????

Okay, I’m torturing you with a review of yet another bicycling book, also written in part by Ed Pavelka, but with a different focus, looking a road biking in general, rather than simply talking about long distance riding. The book is divided into 8 parts, which I will not review, but each focuses on some aspect of bicycling, such as training, riding in traffic, medical problems with bicycling, etc. Each chapter was mostly 3-4 pages long, and thus easy to read in short spurts. All in all, an excellent book for somebody just starting out in the road biking world.

 

The Pandora Prescription

February 17th, 2008

The Pandora Prescription, by James Sheridan  ??

The Pandora Prescription was written by a self-acclaimed US government contract pilot who flew secretive diplomatic missions between Miami and Havana, thus claiming inside knowledge in the underworld of international politics and espionage. The book is a fast-acting chase between a government agent working for the Department of Homeland Security, and Travis, who is attempting to locate and possess a so-called Apollo document. The book takes on the similitude of a Borne series movie, with near omniscient government agents solving in methodological brilliance achieving a fantasy status.

Sheridan attempts to weave within the action his own thoughts on the construct of internal and international politics from a US perspective. His thesis is that following WWII, German agents, who in actuality were planted Soviet double agents, took over and dominated the internal workings of the CIA, making it a partial puppet of Soviet interests. In partial defense of that, he argues how the Kennedy assassination was actually a Soviet action performed through the intermediacy of Cuban agents, willing to seek revenge for US desire to assassinate Castro.

The contents of the Apollo file were documents from a Bilderback conference detailing how the international pharmaceutical industry had actually wished to suppress data regarding Laetrile as the cure for cancer, since it was cheap, effective, and without side effects. Many pages are labored over the thesis that Laetrile is indeed a cure for cancer, the truth of which is suppressed in the interests of maintaining the cost-laden health care industry, which in turn supports the US economy. In the end, the truth ends up in the hands of Soviet agents, who would use it to blackmail US interests.

Unfortunately, Sheridan mixes truth and fiction, attempting multiple theses, including a) the renegade nature of US government, which is a government against the people, and especially true of the Homeland Security, b) the subterfuge of international politics, and “conspiracies/clandestine operatives” such as the Bilderback society and not mentioned Trilateral Commission and Club of Rome, and c) the vast health care conspiracy to suppress the cure for cancer and other ailments. Each of these theses has some truth to it. I simply could not speak with authority regarding either a) or b), but refer you to writings such as are produced by brother Dennis, who has much to say on this topic, which I hold to be mostly accurate and consistent with Sheridan’s thought. Like Sheridan, brother Dennis also has much to say regarding the health care industry, but remains less informed, considering that since there are conspiracies behind every tree and under every rock, it must also be true of health care. As a physician, I certainly have grave concerns about the health care industry, and believe that Pharmaceutical concerns heavily influence the data, and its interpretation. There is not a week that goes by where some drug rep is trying to buy me lunch and pawn some expensive, useless, and toxic drug off onto my prescription pattern. I just look at the demise of tamoxifen and rise of aromatase inhibitors, which are far more expensive with more side effects, but marginally, if at all better than tamoxifen, and certainly with virtually no difference in overall survival. Overall survival is a number, unlike disease free survival or time to progression, that cannot be manipulated. You can’t fudge on the death of a person by more than a day or two.

But what about Laetrile? Are we really hiding the cure for cancer? To even ask the question betrays a naiveté  about cancer. Everybody would love a cure for cancer. The book mentions a small province in Nepal where cancer is not reported. Either they have not the sophistication to identify cancer when it is present (quite probably true) or they die young (also quite true) and so don’t have the chance of getting the old-age disease. Why do people in Cuba and Mexico die of cancer, where they supposedly know the “truth”? Why have the Russians not opened up massive Laetrile clinics for their citizens, since they don’t have drug cartels, yet know the “truth”? I’ve had many patients go to Mexico for the cure, only to come back worse off than before. They should have laid on the beaches and drank their Tequila, rather than wasting their money on worthless cures. Why is Fidel dying of cancer? Odd thing, is it not? Is the drug cartel in Cuba restricting Laetrile from him? Are there cures for other diseases? If so, why haven’t they been discovered before the modern era? It seems like people live at most for 70-80 years, with higher rates found mostly in societies with improved public sanitation and a reasonably adequate diet. Alternative health care varies extremely, from chiropractic, naturopathic, Eastern mystical, Christian Science faith healing, and the list goes on. Having trained at the U. of Illinois, we are all too aware of the Krebiozin incident, proved to be worthless (sterile water with less than 1 part per billion of any active ingredient). Now, maybe Krebiozin was just another pharmaceutical cover-up, yet I don’t see Brazilians flocking to Krebiozin clinics, since this is where that supposed miracle drug came from. In actual fact, all cultures and societies and levels of sophistication have their quacks. We will someday look on what we do as barbaric, and my enthusiasm for what I have to offer my patients is less than ebullient. If one cannot cut it out, then the cancer will probably not be cured. Sheridan’s ignorance of the types and vagaries of cancer and his solution offer me nothing. This book had a “Bourne Identity” style excitement to its plot, some semblance of truth, but overall, a faulty thesis that distracts from enjoyment of the story.

 

Into Thin Air

February 16th, 2008

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer  ????

Into Thin Air is the account by Jon Krakauer, a reporter working forOutside Magazine, chronicling a climb on Mt. Everest. Krakauer, who was originally slated to climb with a group called Mountain Madness, based in Seattle and directed with Scott Fischer, was then switched to a group called Adventure Consultants, based in New Zealand and directed by Rob Hall. This book is a blow by blow account of the approach, climb, and disaster that occurred on the summit day, leading to the deaths of Fischer, Hall, as well as four other people. While Fischer and Hall were quite accomplished climbers, and experienced with Everest, major decision errors, and arrogance, led to the catastrophes that occurred. Firstly, both groups took extreme pride in getting anybody with any experience at all up the mountain. Secondly, neither group followed their own rules. Neither would fix lines, expecting the other team, or, two other completely inept and inexperienced teams, to fix the ropes, and neither obeyed their own decision to turn back at a certain hour, if the summit wasn’t achieved. In addition, there were simply too many people on the mountain attempting the summit push at one time to allow for speed, efficiency, and safety. It was a perfect setup for disaster. Understandably, clients pay reasonably high fees to be personally escorted to the summit of Everest, but, when one needs to be carried and dragged to the summit, as happened with Doug Hansen and Sandy Pittman, it defies the honor of actually having climbed the mountain. One of the guides, Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian climber of unbelievable fitness, came under harsh scrutiny of Mr. Krakauer for reportedly abandoning several clients to look after his own personal safety, even though it was Boukreev’s personal valor that saved several clients, Pittman and Fox from otherwise sure death. Boukreev actually wrote a book The Climb to defend his own actions. Criticism of Krakauer’s writing, and failure to also look out for his fellow climbers by going ahead of the rest of the team. Part of this was understandable, as the rest of the team was not in good fitness and did not belong on the mountain, or should have turned back long ago. It has been argued the Krakauer’s slick jouralistic prose tended to minimalize his faults, and accentuate others, though I didn’t sense that this was domineering. Certainly, constructive criticism looks at the climbing errors, which occurred in virtually everybody on the mountain, rather than a single person. So you might ask, did they learn their lessons? I don’t think so. Get into the expedition groups’ websites (http://www.adventureconsultants.co.nz/AdventureInternational/ &http://www.mountainmadness.com/ ) and you will find that they are continuing this madness. You can even sign up for a several month ski-expedition to the South or North Pole! Not a good idea. Everest, and even smaller peaks, like Denali or even Rainier, should be limited to those who climb on a regular basis, and have a clue how to do advanced rescue and techniques of the mountain. A recent catastrophe on Rainier was exactly this sort of thing–poorly prepared clients who went through a short class on self arrest and knot tying being dragged up a capricious and unpredictable mountain.

 

The Returning King

January 31st, 2008

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.

 

Deutsche Geschichte

January 27th, 2008

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 the 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

January 23rd, 2008

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 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

January 22nd, 2008

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. Which 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 pre-occupied 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-cessasionist, 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 which 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.

 

Long-Distance Cycling

January 13th, 2008

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 to 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.

 

Daktar

January 8th, 2008

Daktar, Diplomat in Bangladesh, autobiography by Viggo Olsen  ????

Daktar is a heart-stirring autobiography of a surgeon who found Christ while in residency, and decided to bring the gospel message to East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. He unfortunately was caught in the civil war of East Pakistan breaking away from West Pakistan, and the massive inhumanity which occurred in the process. Through his trust in Christ, he was able to build a hospital in the heart of mostly Muslim Chittagong region of Bangladesh, and reach many with the gospel. It is to this hospital that Betsy and I hope to spend several months next year, and so was a particularly appealing story. It received only four stars, since parts of it were slightly bizarre, especially the added unnecessary comments by Ms. Lockerbie. Otherwise a stimulating read, especially if one is considering medical missionary work.