Tag Archives: religion

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Ron’s #11: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart tells the story of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria around the late 1800s. Okonkwo is one of the leaders in the tribe, admired for his strength and courage. He has many negative characteristics as well, particularly through our twenty-first century eyes: he is prideful, impatient with his son’s “manliness,” and he is violent to his wives. The main story is how the tribe reacts when European missionaries come to the village on their “iron horses” (bicycles). Okonkwo is faced with either acceptance or violence.

One of the most powerful scenes occurs early in the book when a slave boy from a neighboring village is captured and comes to live with Okonkwo and his family. After three years, Ikemefuna is treated as one of the family, even calling Okonkwo “father.” The Oracle tells that it is time to kill Ikemefuna, so the tribe takes him outside the village. Okonkwo is told not to, as this is his adopted son. After the first blow lands, Ikemefuna cries to Okonkwo for help, and Okonkwo runs to him killing him with a machete, just so others would not think him weak.

I taught this novel for the first time recently, and I was pleased at how students seemed to enjoy the story and discussions. There is much to discuss in this book: colonialism, culture differences, gender roles, and religion. Overall, it was a good experience. However, there was a disturbing part of having taught this. During discussions about Okonkwo’s beating his wives or killing his son, I heard over and over again, “Who are we to judge?” and “That’s their morals” and “We can’t force our morality on others.” I was stunned to see relativism so deeply ingrained at such a young age. We are training a generation of young people to think that it is wrong and America-centric to consider some actions as more correct than others. This may be true if we were talking about style of homes or clothing or television shows, but we are talking about something far more important than that. Some students in my classes could not admit that it is universally wrong to treat women like property or to kill your innocent son. They begin their objections with that pseudo-intellectual start, “Who are we…”

You are a human being, that’s who you are. As humans, we must address these universally wrongs: killing the innocence, enslaving others, abusing women and children. This is a good list with which to begin.

If you don’t agree, perhaps Okonkwo can come to your house and try to change your mind. A few minutes with him, I’m sure you’ll be quick to say how many universal crimes against humanity he commits.

 

Guest Reviewer

Adam’s #1: Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos

The book I recently found on my kindle (no idea how, or why it got there, it just did) was a quirky little title called Imaginary Jesus.  Expecting rich theological insight I decided to give it a go.  While there are some elements of theology, the book, as described through dialogue within the book itself as a “semi-autobiographical novel comedy”, is actually quite an entertaining read.  The book follows a fictitious account of how the writer confronts what he has created in his mind as he struggles through the emotions associated with a recent traumatic event.  Mikilatos’ wit and creative humorous descriptions kept me laughing and the plot kept me eager for the next chapter.

The opening chapter has Matt grabbing lunch and hanging out with Jesus at a vegan cafe in Portland, OR.  He’s having a typical conversation with the creator of the universe when a gruff dockworker named Pete comes in and after a few words promptly punches Jesus in the face.   It’s later revealed that ***spoiler*** this Pete character is the Apostle Peter and the Jesus in the cafe is not the real Jesus.  The rest of the book is a journey Matt and Pete take to try and confront this imaginary Jesus (among others) and find the true Jesus Christ.

Matt Mikalatos (in real life) works for Campus Crusade for Christ in Portland, OR. The writing seems to be appropriate for college students or young adults, but actually does venture a bit deeper with doctrinal questions and some fairly poignant topics of pain and loss.  The overall theme seems to be exposing how many Christians these days have actually created their own version of Jesus without ever realizing it.

So while this post-modern soul-searching journey includes things such as car-chases, time-travel, a talking donkey and epic brawls in Powell’s Books, it also tackles questions of devotion, spiritual needs and the way humans interact with and express love for the all-powerful King of Kings.  It’s certainly not fiction on the caliber of “The Screwtape Letters” but still well worth the read.  And it did make me want to visit Portland.

Some good quotes to get a taste for the book:

“If you never confront the imaginary Jesus, he’ll keep popping up, perverting what you know about the real Jesus.  You need to look him in the face, recognize that he’s fake, and renounce him.”

“That’s the danger of following an imaginary Jesus.  The more committed you get to him and his plan, the further afield from the real Jesus you get.  Your earnest attempts to be committed to your imaginary Jesus actually move you away from Christ.”

“There are enormous numbers of people who approach their gods on their stomachs, begging for a moment’s attention.  We, on the other hand, walk up to him like we’re walking to the guy at the counter of 7-Eleven.”

 

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Ron’s #52: The Bible, English Standard Version

It is fitting that this is the final addition to this list. Of all the books I have read or will ever hope to read in my lifetime, this book ought to be the ultimately source of joy, hope, wisdom, and instruction.

This is my second yearly read-through, and I hope to continue it throughout my life. It is a book that offers unlimited insight into God and man. Whether I read 52 books or 2 books a year, may this always be one of them.

Knowing this Book and the Author deeper will enable me to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

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Ron’s #44: Evidence for God by William Dembski and Michael Licona, editors

Here’s a book that most Christians should read in order to understand their faith better. Evidence for God’s subtitle is “50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science.” It’s a collection of fifty short, 2-3-page essays exploring many aspects of and challenges to the Christian faith.

In the introduction, we are told a story about Bart Ehrman challenge to his class, “My goal this semester will be to change everything you Christians think you know about the Bible and about Jesus.” We also hear the results of a survey stating “any evangelical Christian is an unthinking bigot and therefore a fundamentalist.” The goal of this book is to prepare the Christian to be a thinking Christian. These essays will prepare believers to understand some of the issues at hand in order to discuss them more intelligently.

The four sections are:

1. The Question of Philosophy (deals with the cosmological and moral arguments for God, naturalism, suffering, etc.)

2. The Question of Science (evaluating Darwinism, role of science, Intelligent Design)

3. The Question of Jesus (Did he exist? How can we know what he did? Did the resurrection occur?)

4. The Question of the Bible (Can we trust that this is reliable? What is inerrancy?)

The strength of this book is the ability to read a few essays in one sitting. In only two or three pages, the content will not be exhaustive. Rather, it can whet the appetite, introduce the reader to new authors, and allow for continued thought and discussion. Some of the essays are better than others, although the ones that appealed to me may not appeal to you. The sections on Jesus and the Bible were my favorites. I enjoyed the science section, but at times, it was simply too technical for me.

Evidence for God is a book to work through as you continue to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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Ron’s #42: A Mind for God by James Emery White

A Mind for God by James Emery White is a book that I wished I could write. It makes a solid case for the active life of the Christian mind. Christians are often (and sometimes fairly) caricatured as backwoods simpletons who eschew logical thought in exchange for the ease of lazy faith. White describes the need for Christians to crave to develop our minds for the glory of Christ. We ought to seek to deeply understand our faith, our culture, our world. Living passively, whether a Christian or non-believer, is a wasted life.

The first step to engage our minds is simply to read. White makes a passionate plea to read often and read broadly. He tells an interesting story about a family trip to Disney World when, during a calm period between visits to the park, his family sat in the lobby reading books for an hour or so. A passerby commented that she wishes her family would do this ritual. His solution is simply to create the habit of reading. How often do we carve out time to intentionally read? I think of all the distractions and responsibilities that vie for my attention which take away my reading time. I need to heed White’s advice to make reading a priority in my life over television, the Internet, and other trifles. My favorite chapter in this book is titled, “The Library as Armory.” This puts reading and books in their proper perspective in our lives. Too often, we arm ourselves with pop-culture foolishness, and those weapons will never win a war. Reading hard books provides the proper training needed to interact with our culture today.

Another aspect of this book that I appreciated is the chapter titled, “Sacred Thinking.” In it, he describes the art of self-reflection between what we read and other areas of our life. It is incorrect to think that our thinking is compartmentalized. What we watch on television, what we read for pleasure, what we discuss over coffee, and what we hear in the Sunday sermon are not distinct areas of study. Do we allow ourselves time to contemplate how these areas fit together or how they are incongruent? This self-reflection is important in all circles, Christian or non-Christian. It’s an aspect that I want my students to do in a variety of readings in class, and I should do it with what I read as well.

The appendices are worth the price of the book alone. White offers three book lists to begin our quest toward a mind for God. The first list is “Ten to Start,” books that offer a basic overview to reading and to the Christian faith. Adler, Lewis, Packer, etc. The next is called “Twenty-Five Books Toward a Christian Worldview.” The third is “Entering the Great Conversation,” a compendium of great books that offer a broad education in world literature. These three provide readers of all levels to begin their diet of important texts to develop their minds for God.

I recommended many of the books on this list, but A Mind for God is really one of the best for an introduction to the importance of reading, learning, and thinking. If you are like me, you’ll appreciate the reminder to read and think more.

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