August 18, 2021

  • Book reviews

    Born Again That Way, by Rachel Gilson
    This is a great book. Rachel shares her own story of growing up in a secular environment, and discovering she was attracted to other women. Then when she went away to college, several factors brought her to suddenly realize who Jesus was, and her own status in God's sight. After she started following Jesus, she wrestled with her feelings of same-sex-attraction (SSA), and she shares about the things she has learned about godliness and temptation in this book. The book is well-written, very honest, and well-nuanced. She has lots of great advice, and great stories (from others as well as from herself). I think this would be a perfect book to read for a Christian who is struggling with feelings of SSA, and it is also encouraging and enlightening for all other Christians too. I'm not sure if a non-Christian would enjoy it, but there is nothing particularly offensive in it (other than holding tightly to the Bible)... it's well balanced. She distinguishes well between temptation and sin, and has helpful discussion about the terms which Christians use to define themselves (and the controversy over terms like 'gay Christian', etc). Chapter 7 is very encouraging for Christian singles to read... it has the standard reminder about holding on to Jesus but it presents it very well... the reminder that our identity is in Jesus and that what we have to look forward to with/from the Lord Jesus Christ is bigger and better and more satisfying (in the long run) than marriage or anything else.

     
    God, Greed, and the Prosperity Gospel, by Costi Hinn
    This is a great book, where Costi (nephew of Benni Hinn) tells his own story of growing up rich in the Hinn family, then gradually realizing the Biblical problems of his family's lifestyle, and coming to know Jesus Christ personally. It explains the true gospel clearly, and the problems of the "prosperity gospel" teaching. Easy to read, highly recommended.

August 11, 2021

  • Book reviews

    Here are some more recent reviews. For more, see the book reviews category link on left.

    White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
    I do not recommend this book for most people. However, it was an interesting read to hear the thoughts of a person with her worldview (liberal/progressive secular woman who believes in the tenets of Critical Race Theory, and whose job is providing diversity training seminars to mostly-white groups at various organizations). It was also interesting to read her anecdotes. She talks a lot about whiteness, and presents the prevailing societal views on race, racism, whiteness, blackness, colorblindness, white privilege, white fragility, etc. The helpful aspect of this book was that she discussed that we have cultural blind spots based on our upbringing, and some of these relate to race and skin color. We all accidentally misunderstand some of our privileges and the challenges faced by people without those privileges, and we all say things that offend other people without meaning to. One of many unhelpful aspects of this book was that she presented "white fragility" as a Kafka-trap, that is, if you protest that you are not racist or don't have white fragility, that itself proves that you are racist and have white fragility. (She also defines racism in systemic terms rather than the older definition of individual prejudice.) I noticed that she contradicted herself in several places in the book, and reinforced racial stereotypes even as she claimed that doing so was bad. As Neil Shenvi and others have pointed out in their reviews of her work, she is missing the crucial information that the Bible provides, that we should root our identity in God and His view of us, rather than our socially-constructed group identities. The Bible's approach leads to real forgiveness and peace and reconciliation, whereas the secular "anti-racist" approach does not. Her last chapter was the most interesting, as she tried to explain the take-away actions. She said that it was impossible to ever stop being racist (participating in racist systems) or having white fragility, the only best possible outcome would be to "try to be less white" and be constantly learning and growing in awareness of others and (I assume) to be able to make other people feel more comfortable. While hospitality is great, she is missing the most powerful answers that the Bible provides.
    See https://shenviapologetics.com/the-worldview-of-white-fragility/ and https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-quotes/ for more helpful info.

    Reading While Black, by Esau McCaulley
    The author looks at how black people in America have interpreted the Bible over the centuries. He focuses on how slaves interpreted the Bible (when they were allowed to read it), and how slaveowners interpreted it, and how Christians have interpreted the passages dealing with race and slavery in the decades since slavery was abolished. He discusses the black perceptions on unjust policing in America. He is seeking to argue against opposing viewpoints from two different sides. On the one side, he is arguing against liberal black liberation-theology scholars who say that the Bible is an oppressive book that we should discard. McCaulley says no, the Bible has plenty to say about justice and it has historically given hope to black people, so we should study and obey it. On the other side, he is arguing against white scholars who focus too much (allegedly) on individual salvation and not enough on societal transformation and justice, and McCaulley says the Bible's teaching (especially Old Testament but also some New Testament) has a lot to say about seeking to make a more just society. He talks about his own crisis of faith in college/seminary, where his liberal Bible professors were reinterpreting the Bible. (Neil Shenvi has a great review of this book here: https://shenviapologetics.com/questions-and-answers-a-short-review-of-mccaulleys-reading-while-black/ ), and as Shenvi summarizes, McCaulley discusses "questions like “what does the Bible say about policing and the responsibilities of government?” (Chapter 2), “can the church advocate for political reform?” (Chapter 3), “does Christianity address Black concerns for justice?” (Chapter 4), “is there an African presence in the Bible?” (Chapter 5), “what do we do with Black rage?” (Chapter 6), and “does the Bible endorse slavery?” (Chapter 7) which are often particularly important to the Black community." Shenvi notes that some of McCaulley's exegesis is overly strained, as he tries really hard to pull out social-justice themes from certain passages like Romans 13. I agree with Shenvi's points. McCaulley writes "on the edge" of orthodoxy, and generally stays on the side of affirming the Bible. He has good insights on the context of Paul, John the Baptist, Jesus, Moses, Mary, and others from a viewpoint of living under oppressive regimes. Yet he occasionally attacks straw-man arguments (especially in chapter 3, about political protesting/activism). For example, he writes on page 52 about "the popular misconception that Christians are called to pray and not to speak plainly about contemporary concerns". I know of no Christian anywhere who ever recommended that approach. Overall, I think this book is worth reading, perhaps in a discussion group with other Christians. I don't think it should be taken alone as the best overall discussion, but I think it could be helpful especially to young black Christians who feel theologically isolated (i.e. that none of their white Christian friends are asking the sorts of questions of the Bible that seem most relevant in their situation). McCaulley emphasizes that the Bible IS INDEED still crucially relevant to today.

    Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, by Thaddeus Williams
    This book asks 12 thoughtful questions about "social justice". He writes about "Social Justice A" vs "Social Justice B". A is Biblical, B is not. He seeks to write in a very balanced way, with points at the end of each chapter listing possible misunderstandings that he is NOT saying in each chapter. He has good concern for opposing injustice. He makes a lot of good points in this book. There are so many points made that it is a little hard to digest. I think it might be a good book for a discussion group. There were a lot of great anecdotes, and excellent little life stories from 12 people (plus more, such as John Perkins' forward), illustrating the points discussed in the chapter. His 7 appendices addressing specific hot-topic justice issues were very interesting to read, and quite bold/ambitious. Overall, I recommend this book. Even if it is only one of the books you read on this topic (alongside those from other perspectives), his perspectives are well worth considering.

    The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre
    This is a fascinating biography (pair of biographies) about a famous Russian KGB agent who ended up spying for the British in the 1980s, and the American CIA agent who betrayed him, and how the Russian escaped from Russia. It is very well written, and contains great research helping to understand the people involved. It also has great explanations of the culture and questions of that time period, and sheds light on how communist beauracracies work, and also on what motivates different people. It shows the importance of teams of people working together to support others. Highly recommended.

June 30, 2021

  • Book reviews

    Here are some recent book reviews. For more, see http://tim223.xanga.com/category/book-reviews/

    Return of the God Hypothesis, by Stephen Meyer
    This excellent book looks at evidence of fine-tuning in the universe (habitability of Earth, fine-tuning of physical constants and "Big Bang" parameters, etc), and concludes that it makes more sense that the Earth & universe was designed by an Intelligent Designer who is transcendent, that is, not limited to physical time and space... i.e., by God. This follows up on his excellent books Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt. Overall this is a great book, and mostly readable. He does delve into some very heavy physics topics when talking about the theories of the beginning of the universe from alleged "quantum fluctuations" or a multiverse, but he uses almost no math to keep it readable for non-specialists. He covers all the standard objections, which is very valuable... things like the anthropic principle, Hawking's imaginary time scenario, oscillating universe, panpsychism, the multiverse theory with its physical and philosophical problems, the "God of the Gaps" accusation and Bayes theory. He talks about Boltzmann brains. He covers all the major people and their theories, in a very readable way, with little photos of each person. This book is about as good as it gets for covering the secular universe-origin theories and showing why they don't work and are actually anti-scientific. He weaves his own story through the book, including his interactions (and debates/conversations) with some of the key people. A couple small caveats - Meyer is not necessarily a young-earth creationist, so his apparent views on the Big Bang and age of the universe do not mesh quite easily with the Bible. However, most of this book is still useful for young-earth creationists, and it is helpful to read the evidence cited in support of the Big Bang (and the theory's problems too). Also, Meyer's style is very slow and deliberate and even redundant at times, so there were some pages which repeated the same idea 3 or 4 times as he slowly developed it... The style could be condensed in a future revision to make it shorter and more readable. But it is still a valuable read, even perhaps for group discussion.

    Too Good To Be False: How Jesus' Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality, by Tom Gilson
    This book's main point is that Jesus' character is unique (astonishing divine self-conception and authority with deep humility, moral purity, generosity, and love, including mixtures of traits which would normally be a turn-off in most people (e.g. never admitting making a mistake) which somehow attracted people to him), and unlikely to have been concocted by a group of later authors (and even if they tried, unlikely for all the different authors to have merged successfully into a coherent biographical portrait across multiple books, audiences, locations, and times). The book brought up some very interesting things about Jesus in the gospels, such as that He was never said to have "faith" in God (which would be unusual for a respected religious teacher), and that He never talked about God as "Our Father" (only "My Father" or "your Father"... the one exception is when his disciples asked him about prayer and he told them to pray, "Our Father"... the implication being that His Son-Father relationship was different than our relationship with God). I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others, but I think that most skeptics would not be convinced by its reasoning. Christians would probably enjoy it more. It is very easy to read, with lots of little anecdotes and quotes.

March 6, 2021

  • book reviews

    Here are some more book reviews.  See the category link on the left for more.

    The Mirror or the Mask: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices, by Lydia McGrew
    In this book she refutes the increasingly popular idea in NT studies that the gospel writers used "literary devices", which are alleged techniques commonly used by ancient historians to "invent" historical details, "transfer" words from the original speaker to someone else for theological reasons, etc. (For example, Michael Licona teaches this view in his book 'Why are there differences between the gospels'). Instead, she shows that they used the "Reportage" model, which is that they were reporting history in an accurate fashion (though sometimes using achronological topical arrangement or synopsizing for brevity). This is a very thorough and very important book. She shows that actually most ancient Greek/Roman historians at that time did NOT use those literary devices, and that even if they did, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would not likely have read their works or learned that "Bioi" genre/style. She then goes through many of the alleged discrepancies between the gospels and shows how they can be harmonized. In three or four instances, she posits that the authors of the gospels made a simple error (she is not an inerrantist), and shows that this is much more likely (and even more useful) than that the authors deliberately changed the story for theological reasons. This book dovetails well with the previous book "Hidden in Plain View" about how the gospels "accidentally confirm each other" with "undesigned coincidences". The book also has great information on the secular historians at that time.

    So the Next Generation Will Know, by Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace
    This is written primarily for those who are in direct frequent contact with Christian children, such as youth group pastors or parents. It's about how to connect with the new generation (Generation Z, the iPhone generation), and how to help them to not only understand Christianity and understand the evidence for it, but believe in it and CARE about it. The first part of the book was kind of boring, but it got better. They share some of their failures as youth group leaders / educators in a Christian school, and how they made changes to have students have more transformational time, not just fun time. They recommend "TAB"- mixing the three aspects of Theology, Apologetics, and Behavior, into all teaching of youth. They suggest good question topics of high apologetics interest. They recommend times of training, followed by scheduled 'challenges' for the youth... missions trips, evangelism trips, service trips, visiting a group of people who have a different worldview, etc. I think this is worth reading for every Christian, and repeatedly every couple years, and discussing with others.

    Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
    This book discusses three different styles to relational attachment, especially in romantic relationships. The three styles are Anxious, Avoidant, and Secure. Anxious people are nervous about the relationship, and respond to relational stress by trying to talk more and increase emotional intimacy. They are quick to see relational problems as indicating that they are a failure. Avoidant people try to avoid emotional intimacy and seek 'space' and 'distance' in their relationships. Secure people are easily able to show emotional intimacy, and tend not to worry about their relationships. The authors suggest (based on psychological studies) that almost everyone falls into one of these styles, or a mixture (like Avoidant-Anxious). They suggest that people are genetically predisposed toward them and are also somewhat conditioned by childhood examples, and that people can sometimes change over time. Also, people can take note of their own tendencies and apply coping mechanisms to avoid problematic excesses. The authors discuss the problems that manifest in relationships between Anxious and Avoidant people, and other pairings, and how to try to mitigate them. The last two chapters have excellent general advice for romantic relationships and happier marriages, such as how to fight verbally in a healthy way with one's spouse. The book is completely secular, so it misses the powerful perspective that comes from the Bible on marriage and relationships (and its scenarios are very secular, with lots of stories of couples living together without being married, and all the stress associated with that). However, as secular romantic relationship books go, it is a decent read. The central concept is a helpful tool, though it should not be applied too rigidly.

February 13, 2021

  • Literary Devices

    If you ever have time and interest, here's a neat 2-hour discussion about the problems with a modern theory that the authors of the gospels used "literary devices" to change the historical facts.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiE-J6U3kCY
    McGrew's book "The Mirror or the Mask" is also great on this topic!

January 13, 2021

December 27, 2020

  • book reviews

    Here are some recent book reviews. For more, see http://tim223.xanga.com/category/book-reviews/

    Beyond Racial Gridlock, by George Yancey (2006)
    This excellent book starts by examining four common "models" of healing racial problems in the USA: (colorblindness, Anglo-conformity, multiculturalism, and white responsibility). Yancey explains strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and strengths and weaknesses of how Christians have implemented them. Then he puts forth an alternative model, "mutual responsibility". He writes in a way that is sensitive to people from ethnic majority culture and minority/BIPOC cultures, and has many good anecdotes, statistics, and historical examples. He talks about racism as both individual and structural, with solid examples of both. He discusses reparations and affirmative action, and when (not) to play the 'race card'. He has a separate chapter talking about how the sin nature affects European Americans versus how the sin nature affects people of color (hint: it affects both, in different ways). He has a really great chapter on how Jesus (the "ultimate reconciler") dealt with racial issues, as both a majority (Jewish man interacting with Samaritan woman) and as a minority (Jew interacting with Roman centurion), as well as other Biblical examples. He talks about the importance of listening to people from other backgrounds. Overall this is an excellent, highly-recommended book, for Christians. I think it would be great for a book discussion group, even one composed of both Christians and nonChristians. My only two caveats are that it is fairly old (2006) and that the first few chapters felt a little wooden and repetitive in writing style. But I think this is well-worth reading, and discussing with others. Neil Shenvi has a longer review (which motivated me to buy and read the book) - https://shenviapologetics.com/a-long-review-of-yanceys-beyond-racial-gridlock-part-1/ https://shenviapologetics.com/a-long-review-of-yanceys-beyond-racial-gridlock-part-2/ https://shenviapologetics.com/a-long-review-of-yanceys-beyond-racial-gridlock-part-3/ https://shenviapologetics.com/a-long-review-of-yanceys-beyond-racial-gridlock-part-4/

    Unoffendable, by Brant Hansen
    Excellent book that makes a simple case that Christians should be unoffendable, because of the huge grace and forgiveness that God has shown us through Jesus Christ... i.e. He forgave all our sins and gave us eternal life, despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Hansen's chapters discuss how anger is generally not proper for us Christians to hold, especially not holding it inside for a long time. Some people talk about the importance of "righteous anger", but Hansen suggests that this is usually just an excuse... and for real cases where anger is justified, we can trust that God will take care of dealing out vengeance on our behalf. He shares a lot of personal stories, in a humorous, self-deprecating, witty style. In some cases, this book gets a little too simplistic sometimes, in its portrayal of responses to a "sinful person" (e.g. interacting with Christians or churchgoers) as either legalistically-judgmental or lovingly-welcoming... but surely there are more Biblically-nuanced options...? Surely it is possible to love the sinner yet hate the sin? That caveat aside, the book seems useful and worth recommending that others read (especially if you know you have a problem with anger, judgmentalism, or being easily offended). Hansen also talks in several places about his Aspberger's Syndrome.

    Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers
    Childers shares her story of growing up in Christian circles (including touring as a CCM singer), then later attending a Bible study with a pastor who was a secret agnostic / Progressive Christian. In his faith-deconstruction, she likewise began doubting everything. Then she found apologetics answers to her questions, and now she believes again, more deeply. She shares her story, and also weaves in questions/answers regarding why the Bible is trustworthy and historical including the miracle claims, hell/atonement/justice, sexuality and homosexuality, and more. It is an interesting and informative read. Her answers might be too short to satisfy someone else who had doubts, but it could still be useful as an encouragement for someone doubting, that the deconstruction experience is not too unusual and there are solid answers available for those willing to study. The explanation of the dangers of Progressive Christianity is very helpful.

    One To One Bible Reading: a simple guide for every Christian, by David Helm
    This book is a simple guide for how to read the Bible with other people, in discipling three types of people: a seeker, a new Christian, and a younger Christian of a few years' experience. The book is short, simple, and extremely practical. It has lots of good ideas. Highly recommended.

    Those Who Wait - Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt, and Delay, by Tanya Marlow
    This book has four short fictionalized accounts surrounding the Biblical stories of Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary. It emphasizes their needing to wait, during long years of circumstances that tempted them to doubt and give up on God. The stories help to bring the backgrounds of the stories to life and are helpful in exemplifying to us how to wait in our own circumstances. Each story also has discussion questions afterward, for group studies. The final epilogue chapter has excellent thoughts on waiting for God to act in our lives.

    These Are The Generations, by Mr. and Mrs. Bae and Eric Foley
    Wow. This book shares the story of Mr and Mrs Bae's family, living as Christians in North Korea for many years until they finally escaped. It is well-written, and shows all of the thoughts and fears that they went through, and how they heard about the gospel through their grandparents and parents, and eventually came to slowly believe and trust in Christ themselves. Then it shares the troubles they faced due to this. This is a very encouraging, very challenging, insightful, book. Everyone should read this book.

    Live Not By Lies, by Rod Dreher
    This book presents evidence that America is sliding into a new leftist totalitarianism (starting with pre-totalitarianism / "soft totalitarianism" / cancel culture / woke capitalism, and aided by people buying their own surveillance devices), and then presents ideas for how individuals, honest citizens, and the Church can survive it. His suggestions are (chapter titles): value nothing more than truth (borrowing from Solzhenitsyn's essays), cultivate cultural memory (the value of maintaining true history despite society's totalitarian brainwashing attempts), families are resistance cells, religion the bedrock of resistance, standing in solidarity, and the gift of suffering. One of the best parts of the book was the many anecdotes taken from interviews with people who survived Soviet communism in the last century, and their stories of principled (and mostly religious) resistance, of people who valued the truth more than convenience and more than their lives... and the stories and examples of strong-principled men and women who were not cowed. This book fits very well with the stories we hear from other communist countries and oppressive regimes. It is a sobering and encouraging book, mostly recommended. There are a few sections that some people might want to skip, about the brutal violence of the communist regimes. Some interesting sections: how the Benda family trained their children to follow the truth, how Silvester Krcmery forgave his captors during his 13 year prison sentence, more info about Solzhenitsyn, etc.

    A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller
    This professional shepherd talks about Psalm 23 from his experience with sheep. Very interesting and worth considering.

    They Say We Are Infidels, by Mindy Belz
    Mindy's account of years of traveling in Iraq and Syria, between 2003 and 2016. She shares stories of Christian families in many parts of Iraq, and how they dealt with persecution. Some stayed, some left. She tells about her friend Insaf, who traveled back to Iraq many times from Canada, bringing financial help and spiritual encouragement to her friends in Iraq. She talks about some things that she learned spiritually. She talks about the many failures of American/Western policy, and the rise and fall of ISIS/Daesh. Overall, good book for understanding the situation better, and encouraging to see the faith of the Iraqi Christians.

    Intended for Evil: A Survivor's Story of Love, Faith, and Courage in the Cambodian Killing Fields, by Les Sillars
    This is a powerful book. It tells the true story of Radha Manickam, who grew up in Cambodia, then was forced into the rural rice paddies when the Khmer Rouge communists took over in 1975. It is very well written, mixing in little bits of history amidst Radha's personal story and his family's story. It tells of the griefs he experienced, and how he barely held on to faith in Jesus, and how God provided for him in many ways and kept him alive. Eventually, he and his family were able to escape, after about 5 years as hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died. I think this is worth reading because it is good to remember how God sustained His people through very dark times in the past, to help us prepare for whatever upcoming difficulties we will face (Hebrews 11, 1 Peter 3-4).

May 31, 2020

  • book reviews

    Here are brief reviews of 3 books I read recently. For more, see http://tim223.xanga.com/category/book-reviews/

    Captive in Iran, by Maryam Rostampour and Marzieyeh Amirizadeh
    This book tells their story of how these Iranian women came to believe in Jesus and then were imprisoned for about eight months in Iran for sharing about Jesus. It is well written. Most of the book is about their time and experiences in prison. Much of it is about the other women they met there, and those other women's life stories (lots of injustice). Maryam and Marzieyeh were able to hold on to their faith in Jesus despite pressure to recant, and they were able to hold on to their hope and joy in Christ. I recommend that every Christian read this book because of the encouragement of how God sustained them. Even if we face similar things in our future, Jesus will sustain us too as we believe in Him. Highly recommended book.

    7 Myths about singleness, by Sam Allberry
    Allberry addresses seven myths: Singleness is too hard, Singleness requires a special calling, Singleness means no intimacy, Singleness means no family, Singleness hinders ministry, Singleness wastes your sexuality, and Singleness is easy. He makes great points. We all ought to root our contentment, meaning, and satisfaction in Jesus Christ, not in a spouse. Helpful book to read for both singles and married people, heterosexually-attracted and homosexually-attracted people. The appendix at the end is also great, "Four ways to avoid sexual sin". Excellent and recommended book.

    Joni & Ken, by Ken and Joni Earekson Tada
    This book tells about the years after Joni's accident (covered by the book "Joni"), and about how she and Ken met and fell in love. It talks about the years of psychological marriage struggles they had, especially related to her disability (she is mostly paralyzed), and how it affected their relationship. It talks about how they eventually were able to come to a more peaceful place in their relationship, by God's help. The writing pace is sometimes slow and stilted but the story is important.

May 30, 2020

May 28, 2020

(I use 'tags' and 'categories' almost interchangeably... see below)

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