Monday, October 9, 2017

Enjoying God - R. C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul's book, Enjoying God: Finding Hope in the Attributes of God is meant to draw the Christian's attention to the greatness of the God we serve.  How awesome, powerful and yet how loving and merciful He is toward His own.  As Sproul points out,  "Worship is the duty of every creature.  But any kind of worship is not enough, God commands us to worship in a proper manner."  And part of that worship is knowing God accurately.

Sadly, there were many things in this book that bothered me about this book.  First, I had thought that it was going to focus more on the attributes of God and how those affect how we live.  But, it didn't go into that as much as I thought it would.  I felt like it focused too much on questions like, "Does God's immutability, His unchangeableness, mean that He doesn't move around?" Or, "Can God limit His power?"  "If God did something bad would it really be bad?" I guess I just thought the book would focus more on God's attributes as presented in the Bible and how we live in light of them rather than on superfluous questions.  It just seems as though it would be more edifying if it didn't delve into those types of questions, they do not build one's faith or one's hope.

And then Sproul made some surprising and very unnecessary statements.  When discussing Christ's ability to not know something, like the day or the hour of His return, Sproul makes the statement, "I doubt if the human Jesus knew that the earth was round." Where did that come from? How is that biblical? Why does His not knowing the day or the hour make one think that He didn't know the shape of the earth He created?

And here's another one that took me off guard: speaking of Mary's response to Gabriel's news that she would give birth to the Messiah he says, "This response of the mother of God may be the most profound…"  I would be very wary of using the term "mother of God' to refer to Mary.   For one thing, it can give the impression that Mary was Christ's mother from eternity, and she was not;  Or it can elevate her in people's minds to the status of a 'goddess', which she was not, she was a sinful human being.   And for another, it disregards the Trinity.  Yes, yes, I know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One, and "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily"(Col 2:9) but biblically we still need to differentiate between them at times.  God the Father sent His Son into the world to be born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).  That statement is just too dangerous to use, in my opinion, and it's not a biblical term and it's not a necessary term. 

There were good things in this book, but not enough for me to want to recommend it. 


Many thanks to the folks at Baker Books Bloggers for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)


Monday, October 2, 2017

CSB Reader's Bible

The CSB Reader's Bible is designed to make it easy to sit down and just read each individual book. It is more along the lines of how it would have been read by the early Christians whose Bibles (or sections of the Bible/individual letters) were not divided into chapters and verses until many, many years after the Apostles had died. The text of this "Reader's Bible" is in a single column, like a regular book, instead being placed in two columns.  It has no chapter numbers and no verse numbers.  

This edition is a nice looking grey cloth over board volume, and includes an attached ribbon marker.  The font is a nice size and seems about the size of a regular book's font and is a very readable edition. I do want to note that the pages are very thin and quite flimsy, much like, or exactly like, a regular Bible's pages. I think that the edition would be nicer if the pages were the same thickness as a regular book's.  But perhaps they would have to divide it into several volumes if they did that, and it might be heavier as well.  This one still works very well.

The only real problem I have with this Reader's edition is that, though they do remove the chapter numbers, they leave the chapter breaks and make the first letter of each 'chapter' large (and colored blue). To me that rather defeats the point of removing the chapter numbers.  I don't necessarily mind chapter breaks in the narrative portions, and other portions that require it to make reading easier, though I do wish they would leave them out altogether in the Epistles/letters.  I do wish that they had taken advantage of the reader oriented design and completely revamp the chapter breaks to make the text flow more smoothly than a regular Bible's which have (at least to my mind) some unnatural chapter breaks that disrupt the flow of thought.  For example, here is how a portion of Malachi reads:

"I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.  So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

 CHAPTER BREAK  

For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble."

Or as another example, in Acts, where Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin:  "And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face on an Angel.

CHAPTER BREAK

'Are these things true?' the high priest asked.  'Brothers and fathers,' he replied, 'listen…."

They could have omitted the chapter breaks, kept the text together and these texts would read much better without interruption. 

But all in all, this is a very nice Reader's Bible.  I really like the idea of going closer to how the text was originally laid out.  It is nice having other Bible editions around without the extra numbering and unnecessary dividing of the text. Again, I am not against chapters and verses, but editions like this truly do make the Bible more 'readable', as it were, and helps one to remember that "context is king".  Rather than viewing the Bible as little chunks of numbered statements that can be divorced from their context, it lends more to one seeing the text as an inspired whole. 


Many thanks to the folks at B&H/Lifeway for sending me a free review copy of this book. (My review did not have to be favorable)

You may purchase this book are Amazon.com and Christianbook.com

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

Stepping Heavenward


Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is one of my favorite works of Christian fiction.  Written in the 1800s, it is still very interesting and relevant to people in our current day and very readable. Prentiss tells the story using the format of a diary written by a woman named Katherine, who records her life struggles, from young womanhood through much of her married life.  She gives the events of various days (sometimes skipping days, months or even years, but giving updates along the way), and writes down many of her inmost thoughts, questions and struggles with sin.  She has questions about her salvation and whether or not she is being sanctified.  God brings along many different people to teach her and to help her recognize that He really is working in her and making her more Christ like. God also brings along many different trials to grow her spiritually. 

There are several interesting dialogues with others that are recounted by Katy, I give a couple of samples here:

Here she is speaking to one of her spiritual mentors, Dr Cabot:

 "'There is one thing more that troubles me,' I said.  'Most persons know the exact moment when they begin real Christian lives.  But I do not know of any such time in my history.  This causes me many uneasy moments.' 
[Dr Cabot]'You are wrong in thinking that most persons have this advantage over you.  I believe that the children of Christian parents, who have been judiciously trained, rarely can point to any day or hour when they began to live this new life.  The question is not, do you remember, my child, when you entered this world, and how!  It is simply this, are you now alive and an inhabitant thereof?'"

In this next excerpt Katy has just had a former friend, Amelia, die, her husband, a doctor, attended her last moments on earth:

"'What do you think,'  I asked, 'about her last days on earth?  Was there really any preparation for death?'
'These scenes are very painful,' he returned.  'Of course there is but one real preparation for Christian dying, and that tis Christian living……..I do not now recall a single instance where a worldly Christian died a happy, joyful death, in all my practice.'
[Kate]…..'Well, in one sense it makes no difference whether they die happily or not.  The question is do they die in the Lord?'
'[her husband]It may make no vital difference to them, but we must not forget that God is honored or dishonored by the way a Christian dies, as well as by the way in which he lives…..I can tell you, my darling, that standing, as I so often do, by dying beds, this whole subject has become one of great magnitude to my mind.  And it gives me positive personal pain to see heirs of the eternal kingdom, made such by the ignominious death of their Lord, go shrinking and weeping to the full possession of their inheritance.'"

There are several thought provoking dialogues like the above. And many little statements that are intriguing as well, a few of which I give here:

"You can will to prefer a religion of principle to one of mere feeling; in other words, to obey the will of God when no comfortable glow of emotion accompanies your obedience."

"It is repining that dishonors God, not grief."

"People ask me how it happens that my children are all so promptly obedient and so happy.  As if it chanced that some parents have such children, or chanced that some have not! I am afraid it is only too true, as someone has remarked, that this is the age of obedient parents!' What then will be the future of their children? How can they yield to God who have never been taught to yield to human authority…?"

A year after her oldest child died she writes:
"It is a year ago this day that the brightest sunshine faded out of our lives, and our beautiful boy was taken from us.  I have been tempted to spend this anniversary in bitter tears and lamentations.  For oh, this sorrow is not healed by time!  I feel it more and more.  But I begged God when I first awoke this morning not to let me so dishonor and grieve Him.  I may suffer, I must suffer, He means it, He wills it, but let it be without repining, without gloomy despondency.  The world is full of sorrow; it is not I alone who taste its bitter draughts, nor have I the only right to a sad countenance.  Oh, for patience to bear on, cost what it may!"

Now, there were statements and things that I didn't agree with, such as Kate thinking that her little children do not need to learn that they are sinners until they get older, though they do need to learn about Christ.  That doesn't make a lot of biblical , or even common, sense to me.  Wasn't that one of the most important things about Christ? That he came to die for the sins of His people? Or when she indicates that when we die, we leave our bodies forever.  I don't know if she believed in the resurrection of  our physical bodies?  Things like that bothered me.

But overall, I still really liked the book and found it quite spiritually edifying.  Kate grows in the Faith, becomes more patient toward others, learns to not trust her own judgement, learns to trust God more and more, learns that whatever trials He ordains for her to face are lovingly ordained to make her more Christ like.  The book is very well written and really keeps the attention, or at least it kept mine! 

Now, I must say something about this particular edition that I am reviewing, published by Ichthus Publications. The cover is pretty, the format of the text inside the book is very nicely laid out and readable.  But….this edition needs to be proofread.  There are typos ALL OVER this edition, periods and commas out of place or missing, and sentences that were practically unintelligible.  Here's a sample:

"In the first place, Helen would be perfectly if she had the care of father in his present. She is too young to have such responsibility….She is one of those little tender, soft souls one could crush fingers."

I don't think I've ever had to rate a book based on numerous typos and missing words. But I'll have to do that with this one.  I feel really bad having to do this, but I need to rate this edition at only three stars.  Normally I would rate this book at five stars, but this is not a good edition of Stepping Heavenward.  I love the book, I just don't like this edition.  If they would fix the typos it would be great!




Thanks to the folks at Ichthus Publications for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

Rating of Prentiss' book: Five Stars *****
Rating of this edition:  Three Stars ***

Thursday, September 14, 2017

So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary

So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary is a riveting account of the amazing, providential survival and reunion of a family after the ship they are travelling on was torpedoed by a German submarine. 

In 1942, the Downs Family, consisting of Ray and Ina Downs and two of their children, Lucille and Sonny Downs (their oldest son Terry was already in the U.S.), were making their way back to the United States from an eleven month stay in Columbia where Ray had taken a job with the United Fruit Company.  They began their journey home on a ship called the Heredia.

Their trip home was drastically interrupted. The night before they were to land at New Orleans, two torpedoes hit the ship.  The Downs' almost make it out onto the deck of this ship together but are separated by a lurch of the ship causing a surge of water to engulf them.  Ray is washed back inside the ship, while Ina, Lucille and Sonny are swept to various places on the decks and in the water, all find themselves separated from the rest of their family.

Ray is reunited with Sonny after a short while, Lucille is helped by the Second Mate of the Heredia while Ina struggles to survive on her own.  They all have encounters with sharks and suffer from long exposure to the elements.  All of them have to deal with their fears for each other, wondering whether the rest of their family is still alive and they all try to keep their composure during their ordeal.  Even little Sonny tries to be tough like his dad and succeeds in not breaking down.  The Downs' family ends up happily reunited, all of them amazed and grateful that they survived. 

Heavily intermixed with the story of the Downs family story are the accounts of several U-boat Captains and their crews, including that of the Captain of the U-boat that sank the Heredia.  The authors interweave these accounts by jumping off many  incidents in the Downs' story to lead into history and facts about German submarines, their crews and other ships they sank.  I found it very interesting that, unlike the Japanese, many German Submarine Captains were kind and friendly to survivors of ships that they sank.   The most amazing one is probably the account of the sinking of the ship called the Laconia which carried many civilians.  The Captain of the U-boat who sunk her surfaced and took on many survivors, helped any injured, and ended up obtaining help from other German U-boats who also took on survivors and all of them towed several lifeboats in their wake and helped to repair lifeboats.

I'm going give a couple of negative comments here: First, I just want to note that book had some foul language, but it is easy enough to scribble out and to skip over (I've been reading it out-loud to some of my siblings).  Sometimes I don't want to know what people said exactly the way it was said, even if it is actually history.

Second, I was saddened to find that, though Ray and Ina Downs' seemed to be professing Christians, they ended up divorcing later in life. If they hadn't been Christians I wouldn't have thought much of it.  But they were professing Christians, and as such they could have shown the kind of unconditional love toward each other that God showed toward them. That was not a good example of a Christian marriage, that they loved each other conditionally rather than unconditionally.  It is quite disheartening to think that they had the stamina to survive a ship's sinking, almost being drowned or eaten by sharks and yet they didn't have the stamina to choose to keep loving each other despite each other's flaws and keep their marriage covenant.  Perhaps I am getting too preachy here, but that was just really sad to find out. 

But all in all, I liked the book.   It was a very fascinating account of the sinking of the Heredia with lots of background history and information interwoven throughout the book.  It was very surprising to find how much German U-boat activity was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.  I had no idea that U-boats came SO close to the U.S.!  Looking at the map just inside the front cover of the book one can get a picture of just how close they got.  Some U-boats even gave potential German saboteurs a lift to our shores!  I learned quite a bit of extra World War II history.

Many thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and also on other retail sites





Thursday, August 31, 2017

Steal Away Home - By Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey

Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon & Thomas Johnson - Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey, is a novel that tells of a friendship between those two men.  One was a pastor who became quite famous, and yet had a lot of troubles in his life, and the other a former slave who became a preacher and then a Missionary to Africa.  This book is an attempt to imagine their lives leading up to their ultimate meeting and friendship.  Various chapters deal with either the perspective of Spurgeon or that of Thomas in a particular year.  The time advances through the chapters, showing the growing perspective of the men individually.

I really wanted to like this book, but sadly I didn't.  First, , as I was reading this book I kept running across parts where the thought kept nagging me that something about the depiction wasn't right.  I went and looked at some other books I have on Spurgeon and realized the thought was generally correct.  The authors don't seem very concerned about getting the history right. 

I'll give a couple of examples:  First, when Spurgeon's wife, Susannah, heard Spurgeon preach and  laid eyes on Spurgeon  for the first time, the book describes Susannah as struggling with conviction, focused upon a spiritual question provoked by Charles' sermon.  But in real life Susannah herself says, "Alas, for my vain and foolish heart! I was not spiritually minded enough to understand his earnest presentation of the Gospel and his powerful pleading with sinners", rather she remembers that his odd attire attracted most of her attention and caused her some amusement.  The portrayal afterward when they met at dinner seemed odd as well, Spurgeon and Susannah are depicted as flirting with each other, even though they were only just meeting each other! I never understood that to be the case.  Another inaccuracy in the book is that Susannah is present in the building at the time of the Surrey Gardens Music Hall disaster and Spurgeon runs to her immediately after attempting to conclude the message.  In reality Susannah was not there, she was at home having not yet recovered from childbirth.  I understand that this is a work of fiction, but I understood that it was going to be building around the historical facts, not changing them.  This just seemed like an attempt to make the events romantic, when they were not.

Second, I didn't like that Charles and Susannah are portrayed together in bed.  Nothing really indecent is described there but I feel really uncomfortable with that type of thing.  The conversations that this book depicts them having in bed could have been had in the living room during the day.  There was also at least one description of Spurgeon touching his wife that make me feel uncomfortable, it seemed slightly sensual.  Maybe I'm just too picky, but I don't need to picture them caressing each other in order to realize that they loved each other.  I don't understand why this needs to be depicted? 

And then, ironically, some  of Spurgeon's struggle with depression is depicted in a depressing way.  Spurgeon is shown to struggle with various fears,  fear about his wife dying, about himself dying with no one to mourn him, fearing that too many people need him, feeling that no one needs him, and he has struggles with the "why" of his and his wife's sufferings.  Things like that.  He finally finds peace late in the book when Thomas talks to him, but that doesn't make much sense. I don't understand that what Thomas told him was different from what he had already been contemplating himself, in real life and in the book.  And I really didn't think that Spurgeon's almost despairing "why?" was in keeping with his character.

I never thought that Spurgeon lived through a good portion of his life doubting the sanctifying purpose of God in suffering. From what I've read, he seemed to understand it most of his life as a Christian! And I always thought that good deal of his sadness and depression stemmed from his grief for others.  That he mourning for the souls of people and their not caring for God rather than fearing that they did not care about him.  That he mourned for the state of the church and the indifference of so called Christians to getting the Gospel right and Biblical doctrine right.  I also remember his grieving that he didn't preach adequately. In a way, a lot of Spurgeon's sorrows seemed to me to be godly sorrow, rather than worldly sorrow.  But perhaps I misunderstood Spurgeon's depression in my readings of biographies about him, or perhaps I just don't remember correctly.

But the way they have him deal with his depression (or not deal with it) also bothered me.  One spot talks about him using nature:  "Whether it was a starry night on the patio, a morning in the garden, an afternoon with bees, or a week in the countryside with a friend, Charles did his best to surround himself with things that felt natural, real, and truthful.  Because when a person wars against depression, and tries with all their might to push away the haunting darkness……that person pays very close attention to the things that illuminate truth.  Like sunshine after a weeklong shower, truth is wonderfully bright to a depressed heart."  That didn't make biblical sense to me.  That the things which are seen illuminate truth and, by implication, provoke faith?  Doesn't that contradict what Hebrews 11:1 says about faith? And other Biblical passages as well? Truth is found by hearing the Word of God, and faith comes by that Word, not by staring at nature or finding things to stir up one's emotions or feelings.

The portrayal of the two wives, Spurgeon's wife and Johnson's wife, gave me an impression that the wives were the spiritual leaders of the families.  I know in Spurgeon's family that wasn't the case in real life. Spurgeon was his "wifey's" spiritual leader.  That change grated at me, but maybe I just read it the wrong way.  And then Spurgeon seemed too, how shall I describe it?  Too flighty? Too mystical?  He didn't seem as grounded in the truth of God's Word as the real Spurgeon was.

The book didn't talk about the DownGrade controversy, or Susannah's book fund for pastors who were struggling financially. Facts like those would have been interesting to have delved into and contemplated. Showing Spurgeon's fight to keep to the truths of the Bible rather than give in and promote the doctrines of men. Instead the book just seemed to desperately be trying to interweave Johnson and Spurgeon's lives more than they probably actually were.  Even at the very end, they portray Susannah softly singing "Steal Away" to Spurgeon as he is dying.  Maybe she did, though I don't remember it.  I remember having read in a biography that the song that was sung close to the time Spurgeon died was "Emmanuel's Land", which, as nice as Steal Away is, has a lot more biblical concepts than the latter. 


 I have focused on the book's portrayal of Spurgeon and his wife because I don't know much about Thomas Johnson. But, knowing how they portrayed the Spurgeons, I'm not sure I'd completely trust the portrayal of Johnson or his wife either.  I am very disappointed.  The book was well written, I just didn't find this Spurgeon to be the Spurgeon I read about in the biographies.  Historical Fact is more fascinating than historical fiction, and the individual facts of history were all ordained of God, so we can't make them any better!  The facts God ordained, events, people, times, how much people met, how little they met…etc, are all perfect! Work with those!  I really wish that the authors of this novel had grounded their fiction more solidly in the facts God ordained rather than amending them to fit some other story line they wanted to run with. 

Many Thanks to the folks at B&H Publishers for the free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!

My Rating:  1 out of 5 Stars
*

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Deal or Duel: An Alexander Hamilton Card Game

Deal or Duel: An Alexander Hamilton card game, is a game that utilizes historical characters from the early history of the United States and also utilizes events of that time to influence play. This game is very unique, at least in my experience of playing games.  I don't believe I've ever played a game before that included dueling and going to debtors prison. Nor, have I ever played one with historical figures who, in the process of playing a game, could be affected by events like Alexander Hamilton leveling the playing field for his pursuit of the office of Secretary of State and thus specific Face Cards in various players possession are lost.  This game has many historical figures (the Face Cards),  including Alexander Hamilton, Marie Antoinette, George Washington, Aaron Burr, and there was also figures whom we did not know of, which is where the biographical summaries on the back of the cards come in handy. 

 I tried it out with a couple of my sisters, it started out slow and then the pace quickened as we caught on and started having more fun.  There are two ways for a player to "declare victory", either by collecting 1000$ (Federalist Method) or by eliminating all of your opponents Face Cards and having at least one left yourself (Democratic-Republican method).

This game is educational in a rather warped, but amusing, way.  You get to learn about events in American history, but not necessarily learn about them in order. You get to learn about dueling (not sure how that knowledge will come in handy) and make historical characters, most of whom never dueled in real life, duel each other.  The Hamilton Cards, one played at the beginning of each round, really make the game.  They change things up by having random events happen, refilling the treasury, changing the value of certain cards, eliminating particular Face Cards, making holders of certain cards play taxes…etc. 

My sisters and I had a lot of fun once we got going.  We laughed quite a bit, had our characters participate in many duels, made each other pay money by saving each other's life, getting one another jobs, or another such thing based on whatever cards we had in our hand.  We also lamented, all while being amused, when we found that we could randomly lose certain characters.  The time passed very quickly.  The whole concept of the game is very amusing.  We ended the game with a duel between Phyllis Wheatley and, I believe it was Thomas Mifflin she dueled!  Mifflin won.

It was fun, but I need to warn people that the game is rather complicated, we had to study the rules for a while and keep referring to them trying to clarify things.  And not everything was made clear.  For instance, at one point some of us only had "Duel Cards" and yet all of our remaining characters were in debtors prison and so we didn't know what to do.  We scanned the rules but didn't find anything.  Do we redeem our Face Cards out of prison and make them fight a duel? What if we didn't want to pull our people out of prison and challenge someone to a duel?  Do we have to do it? Sometimes we just decided that we could discard one of our Duel Cards and draw another Action Card.  But we weren't sure that that was the right way to play, and many times we just ended up with another Duel Card.  We ended up making it so that we could 'spend' a card on our turn, and yet have nothing be accomplished.  As an example, instead of using one of my Duel Cards (there being no one I could challenge who was outside prison), I would use a card that said "Receive $30 from the treasury to help cover your safe passage home from Paris", despite there not being any money I the treasury.  I wouldn't get any money for the card, but I had no other card to use as I only had cards related to dueling. It would be nice to know what to do if you don't have any cards to play. I recommend that the game makers update the instructions.*

But all in all, it was a rather fun game.  We're planning on potentially playing it with three of our other sisters and seeing what a six player game is like.


I received a free review copy of this game from the Blogging For Books book review program and my review did not have to be favorable)

My Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
*****

This game may be purchased at Amazon (Among other places)

* We cleared up the: what to do if you only have duel cards but everyone who can duel is in Prison:  There is a spot in the directions we didn't notice that says that you must have at least one Face Card always in your roster(out side of the prison) - so there will always be someone to duel.  But what if all the dueling spaces are taken up and you only have duel cards? That is still in question.