March 27, 2006

Book Review: The Witness by Dee Henderson

Amanda Griffin is a woman on the run. And trouble seems to keep following her, everywhere she goes. But now, the trouble has found her family, and she has to make some hard decisions regarding her own life: does she keep on running, as she has been for the past eight years, or does she come in out of the cold?

I've never read Dee Henderson before, though I know people who read her regularly. The Witness is a great mystery/thriller -- it's a page turner, with a lot more action that I expected. I never thought I'd get as caught up in the book as I did -- there were nights when I literally could not make myself put the book down. It was always "One more chapter. One more chapter."

The character relations are a bit too convenient, though. Police chief and two detectives fall for three sisters who are all involved in this mystery, one of whom is on the run from organized crime in New York. Some of the pieces seem to fit together a little too well, some of the situations a little too contrived. But the book flows very well, and is a really quick read -- fast paced, just like life on the run. This will be a great beach book this summer, and is a good front-porch-reading book (you mean you don't do that??) right now.

There's even a study guide in the back of the book for your Christian fiction readers club. But whatever you do -- don't read it until you finish the book. One plot twist is hinted at, and one fatality is totally mentioned. I made the mistake, and it ruined the shock for me.

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March 02, 2006

Book Review: Credo by Ray Pritchard

Christianity is a confessional faith. Even those who proudly proclaim "No creed but Christ" are, in fact, living by a creed of sorts. After all, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10, ESV) Confession is as important to our belief.

Throughout history, the Church has put together documents that set forth essential Christian beliefs. These creeds are important parts of our history, because we can see how people thought about the Bible, and how important doctrines were formulated and defended based on Scripture.

There is a part of Protestant Christianity that doesn't like creeds -- "too Roman" they say. This is a book that I'd like to get every single person who thinks that, because it will change their minds. In this book, Ray Pritchard goes to great lengths to show that the Apostles' Creed is based solidly on the Bible, and that it is as relevent for us today as it was to the Christians in the 3rd century when it was written.

The book is not a church history text, nor is it a theological treatise. In fact, it reads like a sermon series (which it is most likely based on, as Pritchard mentions in the book that he has preached through the Apostles' Creed before).

He starts off with a great chapter on how the Apostles' Creed came to be, and why it is so important. This is an important starting point, since many evangelicals have abandoned the ancient creeds in favor of something more "relevent" or "modern." Pritchard does a good job in establishing exactly why a look at the Apostles' Creed can be valuable to the church today.

Then he takes us through the creed, phrase by phrase. This is an outstanding way to lay the book out, and I think that as pastors read this, they'll be taking notes and making outlines -- I know I was.

The only weak point in the book was chapter 10, covering "He descended into Hell ...". I've always thought that this part of the creed was a later addition, and that it lacked Biblical support. Pritchard makes a good case for its inclusion, and shows how to teach this part of the creed, but I'm not sure the case is made for it's inclusion in the creed to begin with.

Credo is an outstanding book. At a time when Christians are increasingly ignorant of what they believe, and why they believe it, more people need to read this book. The essentials of Biblical Christianity are in the Apostles' Creed for everyone to read. And believe.

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February 16, 2006

Book Review: Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler

I actually read this a while ago, and the review has been up at Blogcritics, but I got a search engine hit from someone looking for a critique of the book, and realized I'd never posted the review here. I enjoyed the book, though Feiler is far from evangelical in his conclusions. In fact, by the end of the book I was convinced that he'd embraced Zoroastrianism, but he never actually comes out and says it. Here's my review, as it appeared on the first of November last year: more...

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January 18, 2006

Book Review: The Secret of the Swamp King

Book two of the Wilderking Trilogy opens with Aiden Errolson serving in the court of King Darrow of Corenwald. Actually, it opens with Aiden and Darrow's son Steren hunting a wild boar, but Aiden is, in fact, at court. Aiden is loved by everyone at court -- everyone except Darrow.

Darrow is tired of hearing about how heroic Aiden is. About how he defeated the giant Golia -- I mean Greidawl, and helped drive the Pyrthan invaders out of Corenwald. He's threatened -- he thinks Aiden is after the throne.

So he sends Aiden on a quest, to prove his loyalty. Aiden is sent to retrieve a legendary flower that is said to have the ability to cure the King's depression. But the flower is located in the heart of the Feechiefen Swamp -- and nobody who has ever entered the swamp has come out again.

Aiden isn't worried -- he has the friendship of the feechies, and the mark to prove it. But as he progresses, he grows more and more worried. There's something wrong in the Feechiefen Swamp -- there are feechies who pay no attention to the feechie laws, and who use metal weapons. And there's a new king in the swamps.

The Wilderking.

I enjoyed this book even more than the first one. For one thing, it's less derivative than the first book, even though the close friendship between Aiden and Steren was predictable, as was Darrow's depression and hatred of Aiden. But the focus of this book is on the feechies -- which should please Rogers' fans.

The feechies really make this series. Their simplicity, their sense of honor, and their commitment to their values illustrate everything that is wrong with civilizer society. And they're really funny to read -- especially out loud.

This series is high on my must-read list. I've got to make sure I get a copy of Book 3 (Amazon says it should be out in May of this year) so I can find out how this ends.

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Book Review: The Bark of the Bog Owl

There is a distinct lack of good fiction geared toward young people, specifically ages 10-14. Harry Potter isn't an option for some families. Artemis Fowl isn't nearly as well-known (which is unfortunate).

Now there's another option. Jonathan Rogers has written The Wilderking Trilogy, and offers us a series for young readers that is fun, exciting, and based on Christian ideals and principles.

Book 1, The Bark of the Bog Owl, was actually released back in 2004. The premise is familiar to Christians -- a young boy, Aiden Errolson, tending his father's sheep, is chosen by a mysterious prophet to be the next King -- the Wilderking, who comes to lead his people back to prominence in the world, and to reclaim the traditional ideals that the people have forgotten.

The only real weakness in this first book is that the main plot is far too predictable. Once I read that Aiden was a shepherd, I had a feeling that this would be the story of King David retold. Then the Phillist -- I mean, the Pyrthens -- show up with their "peace treaty," which leads to war. Then Aiden goes to his brothers at the front carrying cheese and other food. And guess what? There's this giant ...

That said, I really enjoyed this book. The subplots involving the aboriginal "feechies" is very enjoyable, especially the Feechiefeast that Aiden enjoys. The characters are familiar, but still deep. It's going to be interesting to see Aiden mature over the course of the next two books, and it's a relief to read about a boy who is actually boyish -- he likes to roam, play, and have adventures. He's a twelve-year-old who writes to the King volunteering his services as "an adventurer." And suddenly, he's got a huge responsibility dropped on him. He reacts the way any normal kid would react.

Rogers has a Ph.D in 17th Century English Lit, but this book reads as if he'd spent his academic career studying 18th Century American literature instead. The differences in dialect between feechie and 'civilizer' are distinct, American dialects, and the setting certainly reminds me of the American southeast -- fitting, since Rogers grew up in Georgia. The series has promise, and after I finished this book I was relieved that I'd gotten the second one to review as well. THAT review will be up in a half hour or so ...

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October 03, 2005

Book Review: In the Beginning, There Were No Diapers by Tim Bete

Five pages into this book, I put it down, looked over at my wife, and said, "When I finish this book, you HAVE to read it." This is not a decision that I recommend, though -- once you say this, you automatically forfeit your rights to read significant passages from the book out loud to everyone in the room. And that is something that you'll want to do -- many, many times. more...

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August 30, 2005

Review: Unlock the Prison Doors

I've had this one for a while -- it was actually the first book I volunteered for from Mind and Media. And yes, I got it free, but nobody paid me to write this -- as will probably become obvious to you.

This book is, first of all, tough to read in public. If you don't believe me, try taking a book subtitled "Keys to Breaking the Chains of Habitual Sin" to the doctor's office and reading it in the waiting room. Check out the looks you get. The nice thing is, you won't be crowded -- nobody will sit next to you.

The book was poorly edited -- there's a noticable typo on the very first page of text. Errors like this abound in the book -- it is almost as if they sent out proofers copies rather than a finished product. Typos, misspellings, and errors like that are glaring to me -- ironic, since I don't always catch them in my blog posts, but even there I will correct them once I see them. That illustrates the importance of having someone else look at your work before sending it out.

But a book, ultimately, is judged on what it says, not how it's spelled. The book has some promise; the topic is one that evry Christian struggles with at some point or other. But the book seems to be focused more at new Christians than at older saints. The tone is, as another reviewer has said, similar to a Sunday School teacher teaching a class of young children.

Read by a new Christian, this book could be valuable. It presents the material simply and quickly, with ample Scriptural support. But it doesn't say anything that most older Christians haven't heard before in church services. I looked forward to the book "provid[ing] ... a better understanding of [myself] and the trap of 'sin cycles' and the oppression of spiritual strongholds." I was disappointed.

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Book Review: The Thinking Toolbox

This book needs to be taught in America's classrooms. Desperately. If I was still teaching full time, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Now that the gushing is out of the way, let me expand on that. Critical thinking is an important skill that everyone needs to acquire. Unfortunately, critical thinking doesn't show up on standardized tests, so schools aren't as concerned about teaching it. And it shows.

This book makes it easy to teach your kids how to think critically. It goes into enough depth that it's valuable for kids of all ages, but it can easilly be taught to smaller kids. You can use this book at home, too -- no special skills are required, as long as you can read and think.

Two years ago, when I taught computer applications, I spent several weeks teaching my students about the internet, and how to evaluate the information they find there. I pointed out a site -- www.dhmo.org. The site provides valuable information about the effects of a substance called dihydrogen monoxide, and its use in everyday life. Read the site, and you get outraged.

Then, the punchline. DHMO is ....................................... water. Dihydrogen (H2) monoxide (O). But everything the site says about water is true. The problem is in how it's presented. It's all about thinking critically -- taking facts and evaluating what they actually are saying.

That's what this book teaches. That is what kids need to learn. Just don't wait for the schools to do it -- get this book and do it yourself.

{And, yes, I got this book from Mind and Media for free. Nobody paid me to write the review -- if I thought the book was bad, you'd know it. The book is not just good -- it's important.}

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August 10, 2005

Christian Parodies -- Paul Aldrich's Mock and Roll

I love parody. Weird Al, Cledus T. Judd, ApologetiX. Even Bob Rivers. So when I heard about Paul Aldrich's CD Mock 'n' Roll, I knew that it had to be mine.

I've now listened to it four times. I've only had it a day, or I'd have listened more, I promise. I made my wife listen to it. My daughter has listened to it. I've told my sister about it.

Do you get the idea I like this CD? more...

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July 17, 2005

What I'm Reading on Vacation

I'm going to throw this into the reviews category, but it isn't really.

Everybody else is talking about the Harry Potter book. I'm not reading it. NOT because I think it's Satanic or will make me run around att the full moon naked or something. I'm just not interested in it. My wife is reading the series: she reads one every year at the beach (which is next week). This year she is reading book 4. So far, she hasn't started casting spells or riding broomsticks, so I think we're safe.

I figured since everyone else is talking about reading Harry Potter, I'll talk about all the OTHER things I'm reading. more...

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July 14, 2005

Award Winning Book

Congrats to Nancy Pearcey, who has just been awarded the ECPA's Gold Medallion Award for best book in the category of “Christianity and Society” for her book Total Truth. I know that I enjoyed reading the book, and I would encourage others to read it, and take it's message to heart -- Christians need to live a consistent life, and need to realize that Christianity is a viable, rational worldview.

The press release for this announcement is below: more...

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July 08, 2005

Total Truth Part 3: How We Lost Our Minds and Summary

Part 3 of Total Truth focuses on a topic that has generated a lot of discussion and controversy in recent years, and is a main part of Pearcey's thesis -- the anti-intellectualism of evangelical Christianity. Unfortunately, it's also the section of the book I had the most trouble with.

more...

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June 14, 2005

Jesus: An Intimate Portrait

{NOTE: This is my blogging review of the book Jesus: An Intimate Portrait by Leith Anderson. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

I haven't really finished the book I had intended to read before this one, but I found myself in need of some lighter fare after slogging through Part 2 of Total Truth. In looking at this book, and reading some of the reviews, I thought that it would be a fictionalized biography, similar to Taylor Caldwell's Lion of God and I, Judas -- both of which I have read and enjoyed. This book isn't what I thought it would be. more...

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Total Truth: Part 2 -- Starting at the Beginning

In Part 2, Pearcey takes on Darwinism. This is the chapter that raises the ire of most critics -- the majority of the negative reviews on Amazon.com only mention this section, leaving me to wonder if the "reviewers" have even read the whole book.

more...

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June 01, 2005

Total Truth: Part 1 -- What's in a Worldview?

{NOTE: This is the first part of my blogging review of the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

If you've read any of Francis Schaeffer's books, especially Escape from Reason, the first section of Pearcey's book will seem very familiar. If you aren't familiar with Schaeffer's work, this section serves as an excellent summary (but you STILL need to read Schaeffer!). This shouldn't surprise anyone -- after all, Pearcey studied under Schaeffer at L'Abri, and is the Francis Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute. This section, and it's explanation of the dualistic nature of much of modern thought, is the foundation of the rest of the book.
more...

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May 13, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 4: Conclusion

One of the things that I was hoping to gain from this book is an explanation of Lewis' alleged heterodoxy. I've heard him accused of universalism. I've heard that he believed in Purgatory. From reading Mere Christianity, I can tell he was fairly ecumenical. Martindale defends Lewis from the first two charges in this work.
more...

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Beyond the Shadowlands Part 3: Remythologizing Heaven and Hell

I need to interject a definition here, because without it many people will miss the point, or assume something that is not the case. It concerns the use of the word "myth" and how it's used and misunderstood.

more...

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May 10, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 2: Myths about Hell

In the next section I want to discuss (though it's chapter 8 in the book), Martindale (and C.S. Lewis) take on the various myths that we have constructed concerning Hell. We don't like to think about Hell. We don't like to talk about it. It's politically incorrect to tell other people that they might be going there (unless you're using profanity). But the fact is that Hell is a reality, and it is a severe, final punishment to all who persist in their rebellion against God. Lewis once said that there are two people in the world: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done." more...

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May 07, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands Part 1: Myths about Heaven

{This is the first part of the actual review. The introduction can be found here. I plan on at least four parts to this review, because of the nature of the book.}
In the first part of the book, Martindale deal with seven common myths concerning heaven. He shows that these are misconceptions based on a LOT of factors, including an attitude that any physical pleasure is inherantly sinful, so we won't have any fun in heaven. more...

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May 05, 2005

Beyond the Shadowlands: Introduction

{NOTE: This is the first part of my blogging review of the book Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell by Dr. Wayne Martindale. I received this book through Mind and Media as a gift from the publisher (Crossway), who donated the books for the reviewers.}

This post originally appeared at the old site on 4/10/2005. I am including it here so that the entire review will be on one site.

I am looking forward to this book, just from reading the author's Introduction. This quote will give you an idea why: "Somewhere in the back of my mind, quite unconsciously, Heaven was an extended, boring church service like those I had not yet learned to appreciate on earth -- with this exception: You never got to go home to the roast beef dinner."
more...

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