Monthly Archives: March 2011

mark

Mark’s #13 – East of Eden by John Steinbeck (601 pages)

Along the 52 book journey, I’ll have read some books for fun, others for interesting insights, some to learn, some to think, and a few that will enrich my world and increase my appreciation for life and literature – East of Eden is one of the few.

From the first pages to the last, I knew that this book was a literary masterpiece.  According to his wife, Steinbeck considered this book to be his Magnum Opus.  I began reading with pen in hand to underline all the rich and powerful insights, illustrations, and analogies that Steinbeck puts fourth throughout the book.  I quickly realized that I would be underlining far too much, and I gave up that pursuit, content to simply sit back and enjoy the journey.   As I continued to read, I became increasingly concerned that I would not be able to write a review that would be on par with such a book… so I won’t try to, I’ll simply try to capture a few faint glimpses, with the hope to spur you one to read the book yourself.

At it’s core, East of Eden is a retelling of the story of both Adam and Eve and of their sons Cain and Abel (c.f. Gen. 4), as well as way for Steinbeck to describe to his sons the Salinas valley in California in the decades surrounding the turn of the century in 1900 .  To capture this, the lives of two families; the Hamiltons (ancestors of Steinbeck) and the Trasks - are intertwined throughout the book.

As you follow their lives, the richness and depth of each character can be felt.  Through these lives, the reader is forced to wrestle with the themes of sin and depravity, love,  guilt, freedom, free-will and predestination, struggle for acceptance, forgiveness and repentance.

If it is true that the best authors have a deep insight into the human condition and have a mastery of words by which to paint their images, then John Steinbeck is an artist par excellence.  As such, let me conclude with just a few morsels of such pictures he has painted in this book:

“There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension…” (Samuel talking to Lee page 163)

“War is a reversal of the rules where a man is permitted to kill all the humans he can.” (page 520)

“Tom, the third son, was most like his father.  He was born in fury and he lived in lightning.  Tom came headlong into life.  He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and its people, he created them… His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.” (Page 39)

“I guess there are never enough books.”

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

 

Jim

Jim’s #8: Jesus: The Only Way to God by John Piper

I happened to stumble across this free book on Christian Audio.com and took a listen to it today.  It was a convenient time to find it as our community group was just talking about Universalism yesterday.  I’m sure this book will find great readership due to the swirling debates among “Christendom” regarding universalism, annihalationism (which I did not know that , etc; as well it should.  It’s a really good book.  Then again, it’s John Piper, so this should not come as a surprise.  I have yet to find anyone that digs as deep into the scriptures and then exegetes them so well in a readable format as John Piper. He’s pretty sweet.  Ok, onto the book.

It’s a short read, which was great because I have some catchup to do.  But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in comprehensive scriptural outlook on an ever-important Christian doctrine.  The book goes through three questions rather quickly to focus more on the bigger, more controversial subject (as if the first three aren’t controversial in themselves).  The first three questions in succession are: Is Jesus the only way of salvation?, will anyone experience eternal, conscious, torment under God’s wrath?, and is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?  Certainly these are not questions to just brush by; I know there are other authors that have given entire books to these subjects, but Piper wanted to focus, rather, on the final question: Is conscious faith in Jesus necessary for salvation?

It’s this topic with which he spends over half of the book.  It is also a topic that I have wrestled with recently–aspects of it at least.  He begins by addressing the “times of ignorance” from Acts 17 and what salvation looked like in the Old Testament.  He then goes to what I thought was the most interesting and compelling view on the subject.  John Piper always manages to take something from scripture and then reveal it in such a way as to make me think, “how did I not see that before?”  He did this very thing here in his discussion of Cornelius from Acts 10.  This has always been my favorite chapter from Acts but apparently I never read it with the detail to be able to understand it on the level that John Piper reveals.  This passage happens to be one of the texts often used to discredit the book’s primary question, but Piper, very systematically, throws that idea on its head through a few proofs from the text that negate that possibility.  After hearing his explanation, I found myself wondering how anyone could contend with that from the other side.

Piper uses his final two chapters to discuss Acts 4:12, “no other name under heaven”, and then bring it all around to the effect that such a thought would have on missionaries as we know it.  He mentions just how devastating that would be to a missionary career to suddenly believe that these people might be better off not being told–that there’s another way toward salvation.  It’s a sobering thought.

Over all, it’s a great book that I would highly recommend, particularly if your community group just went through Chapter 7 of Radical like ours did.  What a help it is in answering this very difficult, yet incredibly important question.

 

JRF

JRF’s #11 – The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

How do you share the Gospel with Muslisms?  You share the Gospel with Muslims.

This isn’t  a book about new methods and tricks you can use to convert Muslims with.  It is a book written by a former Muslim who has been transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and now has a passion to share that Gospel with those still in Islam’s grip.

Anyabwile’s theme for the book is clearly seen in it’s subtitle: “an Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence”.  He debunks the popular belief amongst believers that, “somehow Muslims require a different gospel or a special technique, that Muslims are somehow impervious to the Gospel in a way that other sinners are not.” (p.13)

The first portion of the book is focused on the Gospel itself.  Anyabwile encourages the reader to trust in the power of the Gospel by sharing personal stories where he has seen the truth and love of Christ pierce the hearts of muslims.  He also affirms the importance of doctrinal clarity in evangelism.  He shows the importance of defining terms like sin, repentance, and faith Biblically for those terms signify something drastically different to a Muslim.  While acknowledging that there is some theological common ground between Muslims and Christians (they recognize they are in a creature/creator relationship with god and that all mankind will have to one day give an account to that god) he also shows the importance of highlighting not the similarities between Christianity and Islam, but the radical differences.  Using uniquely Biblical phrases like, “born again,’ ‘united to Christ,’ and ‘a new creation’ communicate the very real differences between an Islamic and Christian understanding of conversion.”  I found this first section to be a great ecouragement and exhortation to trust in the power of the Gospel to save and transform.

In the second half of the book Anyabwile illustrates how life patterns that should be normative for disciples of Christ – gracious and intentional hospitality, loving and active membership in a local body of Christ followers and joyfully suffering for the sake of the Gospel – are the best background music for sharing the beautiful Song of the Good News of Jesus with Muslims.

I have seen God already use this short book to strengthen my resolve to live a Gospel centered life and ministry.  I have had the undeserved joy of sharing the Gospel with Muslims before and pray that I have the opportunity to do so in the future, in fact it is my wife and my prayer that we spend the rest of our life doing so.  If that opportunity does come, I know that I will be thankful for this book.

JRF

JRF’s #10 – King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

This book, written in 1885, is dedicated by the fictional narrator, Allan Quartermain, “to all the big and little boys who read it”.

H. Rider Haggard’s classic is exactly that – a book for men, boys who hope to become men one day, and perhaps for women who long for the days when men were still men.

This book has it all: adventure, romance, exotic locales, big game hunts, treachery, epic battles, crazy old witches, one eyed savages, ancient diamond mines, bloody beheadings, graphic dismemberments, and side-aching hilarity.  Often times I found myself thinking of Indiana Jones, Michael Crichton, John Huston movies and the like (but not The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – an abomination of a movie and a total misfire of the character of Quartermain!). Yet I had to remember that these stories and films were derivative of this, the quintessential adventure story, not the other way around.

Of course having been written over a century ago there are many elements of the book that are outdated.  These outdated elements are both positive and negative.  The negatives include the underlying racism as well as the unrestricted exploitation of the animal resources of Africa, both common in Haggard’s day.

The positive outdated elements I think are what make this book such a great adventure story.  Absent is the bleak cynicism of current literature; characters that could be described as “metro-sexual” or effeminate are no where to be found; and gone is any sense of moral ambiguity.  Instead the values of honor, romance, nobility, courage, hope, brotherhood, chivalry and faithfulness are on full display.  This is a land where men kill what they need to eat, where they will die to defend their honor, and where they will fight evil mano-a-mano. I conjecture that  it is no coincidence that the generation that was raised on the romanticism of the late 1800s was the same generation that was able to lead a nation through two world wars and a global depression.  Of course there were and are flaws in this kind of romantic outlook on the world, but I believe that there is a vital connection between holding to these values and everyday living that has been lost in our present age and that we would be better off if we rediscovered – and for those who know Christ, redeemed.

“There is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it.”  p. 49

“Suddenly, with a bound and a roar, they sprang forward with uplifted spears, and the two regiments met in deadly strife. Next second, the roll of the meeting shields came to our ears like the sound of thunder, and the whole plain seemed to be alive with flashes of light reflected from the stabbing spears.  To and fro swung the heaving mass of struggling, stabbing humanity.” p. 146

“‘a sharp spear,’ runs the Kukuana saying, ‘needs no polish;’ and on the same principle I venture to hope that a true story, however strange it may be, does not require to be decked out in fine words.” p.8

 

mark ron

Don’t You Ever Interrupt Me When I’m Reading a Book

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