I wanted to like this book, but the lack of character development and predictable plot ruined it for me. The premise of brilliant people who are not mI wanted to like this book, but the lack of character development and predictable plot ruined it for me. The premise of brilliant people who are not mutants like the X-men series was interesting as it could make the story more believable, but unfortunately it falls flat. The first third of the book was very promising, but the last third seemed rushed (poorer writing) and latent with political action/thriller cliches. Like one reviewer said it may make for a better summer movie than a book. I do not plan on picking up the next book in the series....more
**This review was originally published in my church's newsletter where I serve as a pastor.
On rare occasions I stumble into the genre of Christian Fic**This review was originally published in my church's newsletter where I serve as a pastor.
On rare occasions I stumble into the genre of Christian Fiction. I am usually disappointed. Most Christian fiction in my experience is clichéd and sappy with unrealistic characters and stories of conversion that miss the mark both theologically and existentially. I ran into this volume by accident perusing the shelves of the public library. I enjoy the occasional thriller, so when I saw that a Christian Baptist pastor had written a suspenseful murder mystery I was intrigued. I was also skeptical. "Playing Saint", is the story of a pastor who is at a crisis in his life and ministry. Saint is successful with an up and coming television ministry that would be the envy of many preachers. His church’s success would garner the praise of many people. Still he is at first unaware of how he was spiraling away from the orthodoxy of his forefathers, but early in the story he is thrown into a world of murder and ecclesial intrigue that his shallow theology and weak piety is unable to handle. Pastor Saint is blackmailed into assisting the police with an investigation lest they reveal an ill-tempered outburst they caught on tape and for which he would be sued. Though the circumstances of the plot at this point are implausible and silly it is worth suspending reality to come along for the ride that follows. A murderer is leaving their victims with cultic marks while churches are also being vandalized. Pastor Saint is tasked with helping the detectives decipher the religious elements of the crimes. The plot thickens when he is acquainted with three Jesuit priests from the Vatican who are doing an investigation of their own. The novel then takes you on a ride of twists and turns that should keep the pages turning for most readers. In short Playing Saint is a fast paced and fun adventure. What surprised me about this book is that it did not take itself too seriously like other books in this genre. Zachary Bartel obviously wants to right humorous and suspenseful fiction. He does not become too preachy, though his opinions about the doctrine of popular television preachers are quite apparent. I happen to agree with Bartel’s summation of the dangers of emphasizing popularity over faithfulness to God in the character of Pastor Saint. He takes the time in an epilogue to discuss what theological ideas he wanted to convey in the book and to sort out historical truth from fiction in some elements of the plot. If I have one criticism of Bartel’s work is one must be careful with his interpretation of some Bible passages surrounding demon possession. While these passages are discussed to move the plot I would advocate further study of these texts with good commentaries and study Bibles. After all, this is a work of fiction and the discussion about these passages is more for plot development than Biblical instruction. So, lest I give a spoiler by over explaining my point may the reader be ever mindful this is fiction and not a theological work. I would not draw conclusions about demoniacs and what they can or cannot do from this book. If you like murder mysteries and you do not mind mild depictions of violence you may want to give "Playing Saint" a try. I entered the book expecting it to try to be something it was not, a preachy book written by a Christian with an agenda, but I was pleasantly surprised to walk away concluding the opposite. Quite simply, I was entertained. ...more
**This review was first published in my church's newsletter where I serve as pastor.
This month’s bookshelf selection actually came from someone else’**This review was first published in my church's newsletter where I serve as pastor.
This month’s bookshelf selection actually came from someone else’s shelf which they asked me to read. Firstly, I enjoy reading book suggestions, but I often cannot get to them very quickly. I read this one right away because I knew this book would be popular since its author is a lightening rod in American culture and politics. In interviews he has called himself a sensationalist and even admits he has a big mouth and his in-your-face personality is to get America’s attention. I have to laud him for being honest about himself. He wants your attention so he will be loud and a perhaps a little obnoxious to get it. I am talking about none other than Bill O’Reilly and his most recent book with the controversial title "Killing Jesus" is the subject of this review. Please set politics aside for a bit. This book asserts itself to be a work of history so I am going to review it accordingly. The political perspectives of its authors only creep their way into this book in some of its final chapters where O’Reilly concludes that Jesus was killed because he “interrupted the money flow” of the Temple. More on this conclusion later, but firstly we must consider whether or not this book stands up to scrutiny as a historical critique of the New Testament. The question of whether or not this book is historically accurate or not reveals one of the first and most glaring problems with the work. There is no clear statement of O’Reilly and the co-author’s historical methodology. They assert that the gospels cannot be received as history because they are “religious books”, but later state that the gospels are the source documents from which they can learn the most about Jesus. The contradiction is glaring. They claim to be writing history, but they question whether or not the gospels are accurate history. Meanwhile they use the gospels as source documents for their historical analysis. What is more confusing is that O’Reilly gives no reasons why the gospels qualify as “religious books”, but not as historical records. The reader is left without a clear understanding of O’Reilly's presuppositions regarding the accuracy of the New Testament. He often quotes it and describes events from the four gospels as historically and factually accurate, yet still he found it necessary to assert that the Gospels aren’t history and therefore their accuracy in retelling the events of Jesus’ life are suspect. That’s the troubling problem throughout this book; O’Reilly often makes an assertion without backing it up with historical evidence. An assertion is not proof and I wonder if he has looked at any of the scholarship to prove his various assertions. The New Testament is historically the most well attested ancient document in the world. Time and again it has been shown to be an accurate record of the historical events it depicts. The same historical methodology that one uses to research the fall of Rome of the ancient world or D-Day of contemporary times can be used for the events recorded in the four gospels. There are a number of good apologetic books that I can recommend that show that the NT is historically reliable according to the accepted methodologies of historical science and scholarship. John Warwick Montgomery’s “History, Law, and Christianity” is a wonderful volume on this topic. Ken Samples has written an easy to read Christian apologetics primer entitled “Without A Doubt” that contains a chapter on the historical reliability of the gospels that is concise and accurately represents the best scholarship on the issue. O’Reilly does not attempt to even discuss this important topic in "Killing Jesus". This is a glaring lack of scholarship on his part. He might be writing for the masses that would get bogged down with discussion about the historicity of the gospels, but even a short summary would have sufficed so one could understand his methodology. That gets to the next problem with this book. Not only is his methodology not clear, his sources are not clear either. There is little to no citation for his sources. He does have a short Bibliography and many of the books listed are good resources by fine scholars, yet he does not cite where his historical information is coming from. This means the reader cannot go back to discover whether what he has recorded is historically accurate without having to search for themselves. Good history is always cited so that what is written can be tested by evidence. This brings us to probably to one of the biggest problems with this book—the question of evidence. There are a number of events that O’Reilly reports that just have no evidence. For instance he claims that Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus were eyewitnesses to the Passover rioting in Jerusalem in 4 B.C. Yet, there is no evidence for this in the NT or in any ancient document. If O’Reilly were entirely honest he would have qualified his statement by saying that it was a possibility that they would have witnessed this event, but there is no supporting evidence. Unfortunately O’Reilly instead reports his conjecture as historical truth. This is poor historical reporting. That is not the only place where O’Reilly allows conjecture to be confused with fact. Later in one section he says that John the Baptist may have been guilty of tax evasion in the eyes of the Jewish authorities, but he gives know evidence for this claim. Likewise with no historical records to back it up he claims that the tax collectors were diverting money to Rome in a tax scam. The overemphasis on taxes is where the issues of the author’s political leanings begin to show. In fact, he will claim that Jesus was killed because he interrupted the flow of money to the religious elite. Now we arrive at the biggest problem of O’Reilly’s book. Why was Jesus killed? O’Reilly claims that Jesus was not killed for blasphemy, but for hitting the powers that be where it hurts—in their pocketbooks. In a 60 Minutes interview O’Reilly summarizes his conclusion thusly:
That’s the crux of the “Killing Jesus” theme, is that there was a reason he was executed. Not that he was saying he was God. Droves of people said they were God. But now when you interrupt a money flow — now you’re into territory where they gotta get rid of him.
Once again O’Reilly’s contemporary political perspectives regarding taxation, money, and class warfare enter into his analysis of Jesus’ life. O’Reilly does not give evidence whether or not Jesus’ action of throwing out the moneychangers interrupted the flow of money permanently or at all. Likewise he does not provide any evidence that the religious rulers wanted to kill Jesus because of this event alone. Also, O’Reilly does not engage any of the historical and theological scholarship that interprets this event differently from his perspective. He makes his assertion and leaves it at that.
It’s important to ask if Bill O'Reilly's conclusion is what the historical evidence attested by the four gospels or any documents claim? Was Jesus killed because he brought economic hardship to the people in charge? The historical evidence gives a resounding no. Jesus was killed because of his claim of being the Son of God and almighty God in the flesh. His claims of being one with the Father and being the unique Son begotten of God were what stirred the religious rulers up enough to get rid of him. When his claims of who he was were evidenced with great signs, say like raising Lazarus from the dead, the religious rulers all the more wanted him dead. There are a number of proofs from all four gospels that show that Jesus was crucified because he was accused of blasphemy, but one will suffice for this review:
"The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”" John 10:31-33
Again O’Reilly makes a huge assertion to the central event of the Christian gospel without a single piece of evidence. There is nothing inside or outside the gospels that infers that the Jewish authorities trumped up charges of blasphemy because Jesus was harming their income. O’Reilly again has entered the realm of speculation while ignoring the clear and reliable evidence contained in the gospels.
I have not said anything very positive about this book in this review. I have tried to be as concise as possible without going into all the in’s and out’s of historical methodology and Christian apologetics. So do I have anything positive to say about this book? You might be surprised that I do. This book is entertainingly written and it does a fine job of accurately describing what life in the 1st Century Greco-Roman world was like. In fact it was one of most readable volumes on the ancient world I have ever read. Again, it does not cite its sources well, but it is often accurate in it’s portrayal of Roman history and many of the events of the life of Christ. I think this book could be useful to get people talking about Jesus. A lot of people are interested about who he is and what he has done and this book might be a starting point into those topics. This book does not clearly proclaim the gospel though. The central doctrine of Scriptures that Christ died for the forgiveness of the world’s sin and rose again that we may live eternally is not present in this book. It is given lip service, but it is not taught. Also the methodological problems with this book would pose a huge problem to skeptics who need to hear a clear Christian apologetic for the reliability of the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the NT. If read with proper discernment, preferably with a Bible on hand, this book could be used in a book club to get people talking about Jesus and the Scriptures. A discussion leader would need to teach others to avoid the pitfalls of O’Reilly’s questionable historical and theological presuppositions as he deals with the source material. There are much better historical treatments of Jesus out there. I would point you to the many works and lectures of Dr. Paul Maier for example. ...more
This is a decent little primer on the Reformation. It covers the various personalities, thought, and basic history of what scholars traditionally deteThis is a decent little primer on the Reformation. It covers the various personalities, thought, and basic history of what scholars traditionally determine as the Reformation Era (1517-1648)....more
I appreciated this small volume for how it covered the positives and negatives of pastoral counseling and its relationship to pastoral ministry. ThereI appreciated this small volume for how it covered the positives and negatives of pastoral counseling and its relationship to pastoral ministry. There is some good practical advice peppered throughout the book which is helpful for a pastor to consider in his own practice of giving and receiving Individual Confession and Absolution....more
A fantastic memoir that provides a glimpse into a world that is closed to most of us, but this book offers more than a curious glimpse into the life oA fantastic memoir that provides a glimpse into a world that is closed to most of us, but this book offers more than a curious glimpse into the life of a death row correctional officer. Timothy Carter's story is a stark and edifying example of how a Christian seeks to love their neighbor even in the most difficult of circumstances. Rev. Carter gives numerous stories showing how one can uphold the need for justice while simultaneously upholding man's deepest need, God's forgiveness and mercy. The reader will do well to reflect on their own circumstances and see how the lessons Carter learned working in prison might be applied to their own vocations. The last quarter of the book becomes a little bogged down with the question of the morality of capital punishment, but it is a necessary discussion for this book. Timothy Carter is a voice worth listening to. He does not approach the issues just from a removed and scholarly perspective, but also speaks from experience....more