My favorite C.S. Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters provides uncanny insight into the spiritual struggle of the average Christian. Lewis exposes the se...moreMy favorite C.S. Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters provides uncanny insight into the spiritual struggle of the average Christian. Lewis exposes the seemingly innocuous, everyday temptations that are, in fact, the greatest threat to the individual soul. He does all this in a clever, creative manner. The novel consists of a series of letters written by a devil named Screwtape to his fledgling pupil Wormwood. Screwtape advises his protege as Wormwood seeks to lead a new born Christian down that wide, easy path to damnation. Lewis's perceptiveness, as displayed in this novel, amazes.
This intriguing work explores the discovery of a Chinese Christian monastery and a cache of writings that prove Christianity was introduced to China a...moreThis intriguing work explores the discovery of a Chinese Christian monastery and a cache of writings that prove Christianity was introduced to China as early as the 5th century. These works drew upon the vocabulary of Taoism and Buddhism and adopted cultural idioms in order to communicate the gospel to the Chinese in a way they could understand. Some of the content of these "Jesus Sutras" is very noncontroversial; other components, such as references to reincarnation, may cause orthodox Christians to regard the Taoist Christianity as an heretical form of the religion. The book is fascinating not only for revealing documents produced by early Christian missionaries, but because it provides a good historical overview of the Eastern Church, which often receives very little exposure in Christian histories. The work would have been improved by a better organization of the material, which would also have avoided redundancy. Overall, however, it is an engaging and highly readable book. (less)
This book chronicles the modern writer's struggle against religion, particularly Christianity. It traces the abdication of belief from "reluctant agno...moreThis book chronicles the modern writer's struggle against religion, particularly Christianity. It traces the abdication of belief from "reluctant agnosticism" and "uncomfortable unbelief" (Matthew Arnold, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville) to "the absorption of Christian doctrine into a melange of pagan shamanism" (the Romantics), to "cold contempt for any suggestion that religion or religious concerns merit serious reflection" (The Nihilists).
Lockerbie's categories and definitions are too narrowly drawn. Although the book is not well tied together, it is an excellent overview of the treatment of religion in the major literature of the last two centuries. It is well written and easy to read--there is no unintelligible academic rant to be found here. Anyone with a basic knowledge of literature can approach this book without fear, and even a long-time student of literature is likely to find something new and stimulating in its pages. (less)
This book explores the spiritual lives of converts to one form of Christianity or another, but primarily to Catholicism. Some authors discussed in the...moreThis book explores the spiritual lives of converts to one form of Christianity or another, but primarily to Catholicism. Some authors discussed in the book are converting from Protestantism to Catholicism, others are moving out of the world of atheism and agnosticism into the light of Christianity for the first time. These conversions, set against the backdrop of the 20th century (an age in which God was declared to be "dead"), and occurring in such rapid numbers among the most elite intellectuals of the time, are fascinating. The author touches on the spiritual lives of numerous literary figures - Eliot, Tolkein, Lewis, Waugh, Knox, Sassoon, Sidwell, Chesterton, Greene, and so on. Literary Converts is at once historical, biographical, literary, and religious in subject matter, and the variety enables the book to remain fascinating. It is difficult to discern any order to Literary Converts. The books seems to be a collection of essays more than anything else, and consequently information from earlier chapters is often repeated and there is no logical development of theme. Although it might have been better organized, the book is never confusing or dull to read.
This is a well organized, simply written overview of the history of the Bible itself. The author surveys existing Bible manuscripts, discusses how the...moreThis is a well organized, simply written overview of the history of the Bible itself. The author surveys existing Bible manuscripts, discusses how the books of the Bible became cannon, and compares the various English translations. It is the clearest, most complete information I have yet found on this subject. It is also free of secular prejudice, and the author does not start from non-traditionalists assumptions, as most modern Biblical scholars do. Indeed, the book seems to be written from an orthodox perspective. That does not mean the author overlooks uncomfortable variations in the manuscripts, but it does mean that he does not exaggerate them. Each chapter comes complete with a summary of primary points and a series of reading comprehension type questions which can be used for self-review (I wouldn't recommend them for group study, as they are not likely to spur discussion). The book is not "entertaining" reading by any stretch of the imagination, but it is highly informative.
The Ten Commandments is a nonfiction work that examines in-depth the decalogue delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai and applies these laws to modern-day li...moreThe Ten Commandments is a nonfiction work that examines in-depth the decalogue delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai and applies these laws to modern-day life. Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes from a Jewish perspective, although she is careful to also bring in quotes from Christian clergy as well as the New Testament to back up her points and to show the similarities between Jewish and Christian values. She addresses difficult and controversial questions such as "Is killing always wrong?" and "Is it acceptable to tell a white lie?"
The book is a superb review for the practicing Jew or Christian and a useful introduction to anyone who is not well acquainted with Judeo-Christian morality. As a Christian, I found that much of the background explanation the author offered from Jewish tradition helped me to place Christ's explications of the commandments in perspective. For example, Christ tells us that the command, "Thou shalt not murder" also means that you should not hate your brother and that whoever calls his brother "Raca, fool" is in danger of hell fire. The author points out that rabbinical tradition teaches that the command "Thou shalt not murder" also prohibits publicly humiliating a person or destroying his reputation with gossip. Learning about this tradition gave me some insight into Christ's teaching on this command, and it gave me a more complete idea of what calling one's brother a "Fool" might entail.
The writing in The Ten Commandments is not at all academic, but neither is the text dumed-down Dr. Laura does not assume her readers have Ph.D.s, but she does write as though she expects them to have some intelligence as well as an ability to "connect the dots" (so to speak).
There were a few minor flaws in the book:
1. It could have benefited from some more editing. As far as I know, God did not mention anything about the "inequities visited upon the generations." He might have said something about iniquities, however. The author also attributes to Jesus words that were actually spoken by John the Baptist. 2. Dr. Laura offers an excellent biblical defense of the death penalty, but she does not directly address the serious arguments of a great many Christian denominations that the death penalty is wrong. I would like to have seen her reaction to the specific religious arguments made in opposition to the death penalty.
On the whole, however, the Ten Commandments is well researched, well thought-out, and very insightful. I highly recommend the book to anyone who can approach Judeo-Christian morality with at least an open-mind. (less)
John Polkinghorne spent many years as a Professor of Mathematical Physics in the University of Cambridge, but he eventually resigned to train for the...moreJohn Polkinghorne spent many years as a Professor of Mathematical Physics in the University of Cambridge, but he eventually resigned to train for the Anglican ministry. In The Way the World Is, he discusses his reasons for accepting Christianity. If you have already read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity when you begin The Way the World Is, it will be impossible not to compare the two books. For instance, Polkinhorne's statement: "The quintessence of our moral experience is that what we recognize that we ought to do, is so often what in fact we do not do," reminds me immediately of C.S. Lewis's similar point (not to mention Paul's). Yet the only time Polkinghore mentions C.S. Lewis is to criticize statements he made in Mere Christianity. Polkinghore, however, seems to repeat a number of concepts in Mere Christianity, only in more convoluted terms. Polkinghorne often use scientific analogies to explain Christianity, and they can at times appear irrelevant or out of place. This book, though both insightful and interesting in parts, would not be helpful to someone searching for a defense of Christianity. It is perhaps only worth reading if you have a particular interest in science--otherwise it is often difficult to relate to. He has some excellent passages, however, like the one quoted below.
Despite the title, this book does not focus primarily on the so-called "culture wars." It consists of a number of arguments aimed at persuading secula...moreDespite the title, this book does not focus primarily on the so-called "culture wars." It consists of a number of arguments aimed at persuading secular and religious Jews that they have nothing to fear--and much to gain--from living in a "Christian nation." Rabbi Lapin attempts to overcome the misconceptions and prejudices many Jews--particularly liberal secular Jews--have about the "religious right." He discusses the dangers of too lightly hurling the epithet of anti-Semite, and he maintains that it is America's underlying Christian values and free market economy that has enabled the Jewish people to prosper in the land. He tries to explain the Jewish tendency toward liberalism and socialism and argues why such a trend is harmful rather than helpful for Jews. He also spends some time making religious arguments as well, explaining why he thinks Judeo-Christian values are necessary for the prosperity and endurance of our nation. Finally, he takes a moment to address Christians and explains why Jews find it offensive when Christians claim that Jews who have not accepted Christ are "incomplete Jews."
There is some degree of repetitiveness to be found in America's Real War, as is true with most political nonfiction books. Rabbi Lapin has some very interesting insights, especially with regard to his religious perspective, but the book can at times be dull. The book will be of most interest to the open-minded Jewish reader or the Christian who is seeking some reassurance that his good intentions are understood. (less)
Paul Williams doesn't attempt to understand Christianity, but he does attempt to explain Dylan's conversion to it. The book consists of the semi-rando...morePaul Williams doesn't attempt to understand Christianity, but he does attempt to explain Dylan's conversion to it. The book consists of the semi-random speculations of a Dylan fan, and it is filled with tentative conclusions drawn largely from Dylan's song lyrics and public-record information about his life. It offers no new startling insights. Williams, like many Dylan fans, was none too thrilled about Dylan's conversion or the condemnatory arrogance that accompanied his new music. (The arrogance and condemnation were nothing new, only the target had shifted.) However, Williams does at least appreciate the quality of the music Dylan produced during this period. He appropriately attacks the critics who refuse to acknowledge Dylan's post-60's genius. "It seems," writes Williams, "there are a whole lot of people out there who are so hopelessly mired in their own long-gone adolescence that they have no interest in living art at all: they want their performers to be time machines for them."
Much of the book seems to be only slightly relevant to the topic. As far as the title question is concerned, the author basically argues that because Dylan could not find salvation in women, he sought it in Christ. The musician's conversion does not concern Williams so much as the possibility that Dylan might try to force Christianity "on the rest of us." Dylan's conversion was horrifying to many of his fans. This is perhaps because these fans had related so closely with Dylan's words for so long, that when the musician accepted Christ, they were forced to ask, as does Williams, "where have we diverged? Is he wrong, or . . . does this mean one day I'm going to wake up in love with Jesus too?" A scary thought to a lot of people.
Williams is afraid Dylan's been influenced by these Christians who are "ultraconservative simply because they've never been exposed to anything else." (Born-again Christians apparently never watch television shows, or see the news, or read books, or go to movies, or set foot in a public school, or do anything else that might expose them to the enlightened liberal thinking that dominates virtually every aspect of pop culture and the academy. Dylan's willingness to adopt the attitudes of these people surprises Williams because he figures Dylan is as smart as he is. Generous concession.) This is not the only line to appall Williams. He's mystified by Dylan's zealous mention of "pornography in the schools," and asks what the songwriter could possibly be talking about. (I guess Williams hadn't been to a public college in awhile, because I was certainly exposed to theoretical analysis of pornography during my University education, and I never even sought out such a curriculum; it just found its way surreptitiously into one of my English classes.) He is equally offended by Dylan's finger pointing when he sings about "adulterers in the churches." Is Dylan, Williams asks indignantly, going to "have them shot by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" He seems entirely oblivious to the main (and very obvious) point Dylan is making about religious hypocrisy.
Williams did surprise me with one very insightful remark, however. He pointed out that Dylan has got the golden rule wrong on his song "Do Right to Me, Baby." The golden rule is not conditional, it does not say, as does Dylan, "IF you do right unto me, baby, I'll do right to you too." And, despite the author's vaguely self-righteous criticism of evangelicals, he does seem to have a somewhat open mind about Christianity, at least, he has no beef with Dylan's personal choice, just with his musical evangelism. Consequently, he prefers the quieter, humbler, more personal songs such as "What Can I Do For You?" to the bible-thumping ones like "When You Gonna Wake Up?"(less)
The Commission is a work of social science-fiction. The story begins in the second half of the 21st century, where Terrapax, a libertarian's nightmare...moreThe Commission is a work of social science-fiction. The story begins in the second half of the 21st century, where Terrapax, a libertarian's nightmare vision of the United Nations, has taken over the world and established a new universalistic state religion. People are free to worship their own gods, provided they do not teach that their religion is anymore "right" than any other religion, provided they do not proselytize in any way, and provided their churches kick back ten percent to the Spiritual Health Organization. Should one refuse this arrangement and persist in outmoded and "bigoted" beliefs, the "intolerant" will be shipped off to a re-education camp. Eventually, one group of Christians, from a denomination called the Messianists, is exiled to another planet for its persistent refusal to recant. Will members of this all-Christian society continue to maintain their faith, or will a loss of tradition and authority give birth to heresy?
After reading the back cover blurb, I had hoped the novel would focus on examining whether opposition and adversity are essential to the existence of a vibrant faith and whether (true) tolerance of Christianity actually leads to complacency among Christians. But this question really is not much developed in the novel. However, many other intriguing questions are introduced. Indeed, the plot is a clever vehicle for a host of difficult questions, and I found myself repeatedly pausing in my reading to think. The Commission could serve as a real discussion sparker among Christians, and it is likely to inspire the Christian reader to reflect on many things: Where is our nation headed with its emphasis on religious "tolerance"? Could this emphasis on "tolerance" eventually lead to a law against proselytizing? Can publicly recanting your faith while privately maintaining it ever be justified? What might cause you to recant? Would God have us fight back with violence against oppressive tyranny? How long would it take heresy to develop in an all-Christian society, and how might it develop? The author has heresy developing in part because of a lack of access to scriptures, but I think it would have been just as believable to have it developing despite the ready availability of the scriptures. At any rate, the novel reminds us that heresy is always internal and that the true threat to Christian orthodoxy never comes from non-believers, but from professed believers.
The author's writing ability is decent, but not gripping; the narrative tone is often more journalistic than literary. There are also some minor narrative problems; for instance, narration begins in the present tense as Taylor Hudson begins to tell the history of Eden (which is appropriately told in past tense), but when the action returns to the scene we left at the novel's opening, the narration does not return to the present tense. Nevertheless, the characters are realistic, and it is not, ultimately, the style of writing that makes this particular book worth reading; rather, it is the storyline and the thematic content. The Commission is an intriguing book posing intriguing questions. It is well plotted and moves at a reasonable pace. The author has a good story to tell, and he communicates weighty ideas without being overbearing or boring.
This was a bit disappointing. It's nice to have a Christian book discussing the spiritual value of sex, which is too often viewed from the negative th...moreThis was a bit disappointing. It's nice to have a Christian book discussing the spiritual value of sex, which is too often viewed from the negative than the positive aspects in Christian discourse, but the book was too vague and offered no real practical suggestions or exercises for enhancing the spiritual/sexual connection with one's spouse. (I am not speaking of sexual technique, which the author makes the point is not the key to good sex, but of spiritual exercises for connecting.) The study/discussion questions were a bit inane and didn't do much to spark discussion. For someone who has never thought of sex in a spirtual sense and who needs his mind opened to that idea, this may be quite helpful, but for someone looking for away to enhance the sexual/spirtual connection s/he already believes exists, it's not much use. (less)