Monthly Archives: September 2011

Brad

Brad’s no. 8 Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper

This will be short and sweet. I am doing this without a keyboard. I have read most of this book before. The part that I read changed my life; read it again and was even more deeply convicted. It is an amazing, passionate, and biblical plea to love God with your entire life. If you want to stay blissfully enamored with the lies of this world, don’t read this book.

JRF

JRF’s #29- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

This was the second novel I picked up during my trip to China last winter.

It is a beautifully written story about two young men from well – to – do backgrounds who are sent into the Chinese country side for “re-education” after their parents are imprisoned for being wealthy and educated during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  They eventually discover a horde of western literature and make it their goal to use it to “civilize” the beautiful young village seamstress they have fallen in love with.

While I think the intention of the author was to praise the power of Western Enlightenment thinking to free the passions of those under repressive communist regimes, as I tried to apply a Biblical Worldview to this story I noticed a deeper truth being affirmed: we are all sinful and lost without Christ.  While creativity, hope, and love are suffocated in communism while power, corruption, and poverty thrive, the passions and liscence and greed promoted by Enlightenment thinking are just as deadly.  Christ-less communism and Christ-less capitalism all lead to the same place – hell, although I admit one route might be more fun than the other.

I enjoyed the writing style and some of the themes of this book.  I enjoyed the praise of the power of the imagination and the discovery of beauty.  Sadly though because of what I mentioned above, the purpose for that power and the source of that beauty were never discovered by the book’s characters and thus they ended in the same place they began – lost.

ron

Ron’s #36: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I put my goal to read Moby Dick on hold in order to read The Scarlet Letter as I prepare to teach it with my AP Language & Composition class. As Hawthorne and Melville were friends, I didn’t think that Melville would mind.

While I read and taught The Scarlet Letter before, I never had the appreciation for it as I did in this reading. I was captivated by the story, but the language and style of its writing was preeminent for me. Hawthorne crafts a beautifully written story that tells the familiar tale of Hester Prynne’s public shame and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s private tormented guilt after an adulterous affair set in the backdrop of Puritan Boston. The story is simple, as Hester faces a judgmental crowd in the town, and Dimmesdale suffers from a burning conscience as he does not admit to his sin. One man, Roger Chillingworth—Hester’s husband—knows the secret and is bent on revenge against them both.

While The Scarlet Letter is often used to criticize and demonize the Puritan era, it rather shows the importance of what the consequences of sin lead to within our hearts. The public consequences are temporary, but the private consequences are far longer reaching as the “Hound of Heaven” chases after us to confess and repent. While Hawthorne does not condemn adultery as a sin, we see the destruction causes by infidelity with the Prynne family. Hester Prynne is indeed a model of feminine strength and virtue in accepting responsibility and guilt, but she also provides us a picture of the results of our sin and the need for redemption in a Savior.

The book begins with this excellent line, showing the coldness of the scene and the tone of the entire novel:

 A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

In our first picture of Hester, Hawthorne contrasts the ugliness of sin with the beauty of the woman:

 On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

If you are looking to read novels that you should have read in high school but didn’t, I heartily recommend starting with this one.

 

JRF

JRF’s #28 – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have been listening to this audio book in my car on the way to and from work for the last six months or so.  Here is what I have learned:

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer was incredibly smart

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer was incredibly passionate about Christ

- I am not a audial learner

Not only did I find that I retain far less information by hearing it than by reading it (and making notes), but the 5 minute drive to and from work is not enough to saturate in the information.  This is a book that requires much mental chewing and spiritual digestion.  Bonhoeffer is very philosophical in his approach and this left me lost very often and a few times wondering if his philosophical conclusions were scripturally solid, although I wasn’t able to keep pace with his reasoning most of the time so to question the conclusion without following the path may not be wise.

The few nuggets I did retain however made it all worthwhile.  The large portion of the book that is an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount I appreciated as Bonhoeffer forces the reader to take seriously the demands of Jesus to live out the values of His Kingdom.  Bonhoeffer stresses the “spontaneous obedience” that Christ expects of His followers.  We are not to question, debate, or ignore Christ’s commands.  We are to obey them immediately.  Simple and clear, but so often I (and most of us) quickly find excuses not to immediately and literally obey Christ’s clear commands – and yet still have the nerve to call myself a faithful disciple.

In many aspects the book reminded me of David Platt’s Radical - except for German PH.D students.

For these reasons and more (especially the extraordinary life of Bonhoeffer)  I am compelled to dig into the hard copy in the future.

 

ron

Ron’s #35: Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale & Jonalyn Fincher


Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk was a free offering in the Kindle Store for a short time. It was worth every penny I paid for it.

I enjoyed the premise of this book a great deal: People have a desire to talk about spiritual matters, so find ways to discuss them to bring a positive view of Jesus to the conversations. I think this is important in our evangelism. Often times, we are the ones who offend our friends and family, not the message of the Gospel.

“When our categories become more important than the people in the categories, we have become thoroughly modern adults who know how to justify our distance from our neighbor.”

“If we are eager to talk about Jesus’ sacrifice, we need to show them our own willingness to love them with sacrifice. We may find ourselves welcomed into someone else’s life when we lay down our sword of ridicule. Mocking others, even behind their backs, destroys our capacity to respect them when we speak face to face.”

“We’ve learned to bring up Jesus first and not our denomination, church’s name, or even the word Christian. Labels have baggage. We don’t want to be too quick to slap a label on others because we want to know them individually.”

I was reminded what I learned from Greg Koukl’s excellent book, Tactics, and it was indeed a good reminder. However, there was much to get in the way of the message in this book to make me not recommend this. I will list three of them.

The first is the writing style. One of my biggest annoyances is when two people co-author a book, and they both take part in telling the story. The Finchers go further in this by putting their name in parentheses whenever the person telling it switches. Annoying and distracting. It continued throughout, and I never got used to it. It seems amateurish.

The other was Jonalyn’s harping on egalitarianism (the philosophy that there are no distinct male/female roles in the biblical text. This is contrary to complementarianism, where male/female have different roles, but are equal in standing before God). She would offer mini-diatribes about it as though it was part of another book, but she was trying to cram it in here regardless if it were germane to the discussion or not. While I disagree with egalitarianism’s interpretation of key texts, I respect those who hold it and can articulate it well. Jonalyn is not one of those who can. Rather, it felt preachy and simple. In fact, my problem with this second point complements (pun intended!) my first criticism with the book. Jonalyn tries so hard to fight her way into equality that she not only needs to insert her name whenever she can, she also overshadows Dale’s stories. Ironically, her egalitarianism gave her a higher and more important role than her husband has in the book. Dale’s contributions are secondary to the story, and feel incidental to Jonalyn’s preaching.

To round out my criticism with the book is that while I love her focus on having important spiritual conversations, she seems to not have as high a view of Scripture as she has on conversations, whether about homosexuality or other world religions. Like the Finchers, I want to have important conversations about Jesus with those around me. However, I want to do that because of my love of Jesus, my love of others, and because of his love for them. All these reasons are grounded in the Bible itself. We are to be people of the Book, even those parts that we don’t like or understand completely.

If you are looking for a way to talk to others well and to encourage conversations on spiritual matters, skip this book and pick up Greg Koukl’s Tactics.

 

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