Friday, February 16, 2018

How to be a Perfect Christian - by The Babylon Bee

 How to be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living is a satirical book about how to attain complete sanctification this side of eternity.  By the folks at the Babylon Bee (a satirical Christian news site), this book lives up to their usual method of using humor to make a point, only this time, instead of a small news snippet, you get a whole book full of pointed humor. Having enjoyed much of their writing already I thought that it would be interesting to see how it would work in a book.

And it works quite well.  The book gives you a step by step process of becoming completely perfect.  Guiding you in the process of choosing the right church, explaining how you can 'worship like a pro', what type of standards you should have, and how you ought to make sure that you are always confirming to the most current mainstream Christian beliefs.

At the end of most of the chapters is a 'Holiness Tracker 5000" chart, showing your progress in the scale of Christian 'growth'.  As you read the book you will find  your progress in holiness rising fast, starting from the lower levels of Satan, Rob Bell and Benny Hinn, you'll rise through the ranks of Luther, Apostle Paul, Tim Tebow…etc.  There are also some charts and a few pictures scattered through the book. I thought that their sample Gospel 'tract' was sadly hilarious.

The book is filled with section after section giving you spiritual 'growth' pointers, they'll explain many ways that you can become holier than other people (sounding serious, but of course, they're actually mocking that mindset). For instance, did you know that your devotional times don't count with God unless you post announcements that you are having them on social media sites, along with pictures of your Bible, a devotional book and, of course, a cup of coffee? Or here's another one, did you know that the absolute best way to work for God (in His Kingdom on earth, the U.S.A.)is to elect Christian candidates to public office, as we know that we are supposed to establish God's Kingdom through the republican party.  God gave us the Gospel "so that we could affect Social Change and win the Culture war".

At times they get a little too flippant in their satire, speaking your "breathing down Jesus' neck" in your holiness progress, we get to "hangout with our homeboy Jesus".   Considering that Jesus is God in the flesh, those types of flippant references to Him seems too close to taking His name in vain. Another thing that I felt uncomfortable about is that they also use derivatives exclamations like "heck" and "darn" which are simply other words for Hell and damn*.  Yes, I know that these things are done for satirical purposes and I might be acting too picky, it's just that some things I'm not sure that we should do even to make a point.

Having said that, I'll sum up my overall opinion of the book:  I liked it pretty well overall.  It is amusing and sobering at the same time. Many of the statements are so true in the book that they are hard to find actually funny as they step on everyone's toes, including mine at times. They don't always imply that you should change your methodology as much as prompt you to examine your attitude and reasoning behind that methodology.  It makes you examine the motive behind why you do what you do, is it just because it makes me FEEL holy? Is my practice actually biblically derived? Or  is it a personal conviction, such as whether I should use the KJV Bible or the NIV? Is worship just a feeling? Is the goal of a church to make people happy and comfortable with themselves? Do I go to church to serve or to be served? All in all, It really makes you think about why we do what we do as Christians.

Many thanks to the folks at Blogging for Books for sending me an Advanced Copy of the book to review (some things about the book may be changed when it is actually published, so my quotations may not match up all of the way.).  My review did not have to be favorable.

My Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
****

This book will be released on May 1, 2018 
You may preorder it at Amazon.com



*I don't think that these are bad words in and of themselves, but we Christians ought not to use the word 'Hell' flippantly because we want people to take it seriously and we want them to know that we do to. "damn it' or 'damn' shouldn’t be used because we do not have the power, or the right to condemn anyone or anything to Hell. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Saudi Inc. By Ellen R. Wald


I don't know that I would have EVER thought that a book about the Kings of Saudi Arabia and an oil company would have been interesting. But this book is! I don't just mean that the book is well written (it is) but Wald actually seems very enthusiastic about the topic and that carries over to the reader.  Or at least it did to me. I almost want to laugh at myself for how interesting and intriguing I found this book, "SAUDI INC. The Arabian Kingdom's Pursuit of Profit and Power" by Ellen R. Wald.

Abdul Aziz, or ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia (never realized where the name came from, sort of a 'duh' moment when I found that out: SAUD-i Arabia) was quite an interesting guy.  He started out by conquering his hometown of Riyadh and then ended up growing his territory over time until he had even conquered Mecca.  He and Sheikh Abdullah Sulaiman, the man he put in charge of his finances (also an interesting character), made quite the team to build up the Kingdom and solidify its well-being for the future. That was one of Aziz's goals, to ensure the continuation of his Kingdom.  In order to even continue as a kingdom, he needed money, very badly.   This is where oil comes into the picture.

Americans thought that Saudi Arabia might be a potential source of oil and so they requested permission to search for it. King Saud did not expect their search to be successful, but he saw a financial opportunity in this. He could charge the Americans a fee to search his country for it and also obtain rent from their premises, and then royalties from oil sales, if there was any to be found.  Even if the Americans didn't find oil, his own country would still get something out of it.

 Lo, and behold, after much searching and near failure, a significant source of oil was found. Four American companies ultimately teamed up to work in Saudi Arabia.  They renamed the company, calling it the Arabian American Oil Company, or Aramco.   Along with American oil operations came American equipment, American housing structures for the workers, an airport, hospital and power plant and other American luxuries.  The King wanted those things for his country.  He had more money than he had ever had before, thanks to Aramco.  Though Saudi Arabia did not have the ability, as of yet, to build these things for itself, they could pay foreign venders to do it for them.  Saudi Arabia was so successful in their modernization that Abdul Aziz was invited to extend his rule to other places, though he declined the offer. Ruling the territory he currently had was already a tough enough challenge.

This historical account does not merely focus on the Sauds and Aramco at a high level.  Wald zooms in, as it were, on the individual lives of many of the characters involved, using their stories to help move the book along.  You'll learn about the Saudi Kings:  the beloved founder Ibn Saud, and his sons who succeeded him, all of whom had unique personalities of their own.  Saud and Feisal, for instance, were opposites in personality.  King Saud - was a bad governor and a spendthrift who loved luxury.  He was, somewhat forcibly, persuaded to give up his government to his brother Feisal, was a much better ruler.

You'll also learn about non Royal Saudi Arabians,  Aramco employees, and American Ambassadors who, at the beginning of the Aramco and Saudi relationship, often had to act as intermediators between the company and the Kings of Saudi Arabia.  Wald often repeats who these people are, by mentioning what their job or position is, or by giving you a reminder about their background which can trigger your memory as to their identity.  I really appreciate that as I often have a hard time keeping characters straight in my head.

Wald demonstrates how wise the Sauds were in their being willing to acknowledge that other countries were more modern than they and in their being willing to learn from those countries. They had foreign companies and workers come in and do the work while they learned until they were finally able to take over themselves.  Ultimately the Sauds were able to take over Aramco itself by means of this strategy. Instead of forcibly nationalizing the foreign oil company, as some other countries had done, the Sauds were very patient and were willing to wait.  They eventually even started having more and more young Saudi Arabians educated in other countries to increase their knowledge and to have more to contribute to their society when they returned. By the time the Sauds completely took over Aramco they were more ready than other countries, who had acted in haste, to run the oil industry themselves.

The book ends at the beginning of the reign of King Salman (2015) and does not deal with later plans of Saudi Arabia like Vision 2030, but the whole book gives you the history of the development of Saudi Arabia, which development and growth would eventually lead up to that plan and it gives you the big picture of the Saud mindset of always looking to the future.  The Sauds are still looking to the future, they want to stay in the energy business and realize that oil will not stay a major source of energy forever and so they are making other plans to ensure that they will be a long-term relevant energy source.

 As indicated at the beginning of this review, I found that Wald writes very well, her book really kept my interest. Some other books dealing with history are horribly boring, some so much so that I didn't finish reading them.  Boring history books just seem as though they are merely reciting a bunch of facts, and after a while the continued recitation of various names, dates and events becomes quite dull and very hard to retain in one's memory. Wald, on the other hand tries to get you to picture the people, their personalities, their thoughts and the events and circumstances in which they are involved. She uses excerpts of historical quotations and recollections of many of the people involved in order to do this.  She truly seems to find her topic interesting and seems to have worked hard to make it interesting to the reader.

Very well written, intriguing and even fascinating.  Wald really drew me in to the history, and she might draw you in too, even though it is just a book about oil and Kings.

I received a complimentary Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher for review. My review did not have to be favorable. Many thanks to Pegasus Books!

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
*****


You may pre-order this book through Amazon.com - It is set to be released April 3rd

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Christ: Chronological



This book,"Christ: Chronological" is a sort of chronological parallel Bible.  Using the Christian Standard Bible translation the Gospel accounts, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are arranged in a chronological order and they are placed alongside each other in parallel columns when dealing with the same account. The text from each Gospel is in a different color, blue for Matthew, Green for Mark, a reddish color for Luke and purple for John.  Along the very bottom of each page is a 'color code' key as it were, reminding you which color represents each Gospel.

Very nicely bound (a hardcover book, and wider than a typical Bible - it's in a square shape), the book lies quite flat when opened, so you can easily lay it down on a table while reading it without keeping one hand on it to make sure that the pages won't turn on their own.   The font is easy to read, a good size, and also, despite the font being various colors, they are bold colors and so stand out on the page.

The book is divided into a sort of chapter format, though they are not called chapters and are not numbered.  The 'chapters' have main titles like "Jesus Turns His Focus Toward Judea". Within each 'chapter' are many 'sections' some of which have descriptive headings for sections within the 'chapters', and above each section are the chapter and verse references for the Scriptures within them. There are many short introductory notes that begin parts that have parallel accounts.  These notes comment on apparent differences between the accounts and offer suggestions as to how they are actually complementary.  The font size of these notes is small enough that you can just glance over them, if you'd like, and continue reading the Scriptural account of the life of Christ. The flow of the Gospel account is a bit choppy, with the many section headings throughout and then single columns breaking off into four columns of varying lengths and then back again to one…etc. It is still very readable though, and serves its purpose well. 

 It is always interesting to compare the Gospel accounts, to see how they complement one another, how some of the accounts give more detail than others who focus more on particular details. All in all they form quite the picture of our Lord's sacrificial life, His teachings, His death and His resurrection.  This book is a nice way to read all of the accounts together.


Many thanks to the folks at B&H publishing for sending me a free review copy of this Bible (My review did not have to be favorable)!

My Rating: Five out of Five Stars
 *****

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and Christianbook.com


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Quote of the Day

Whatever people may say, ignorance is not a virtue.  Neither is knowledge, however, unless it is applied and put to proper use.  This application of knowledge to real-life situations is called 'wisdom'

- Andreas Kostenberger



See more quotes on my quote collection blog:  https://snickerdoodlesquotes.blogspot.com/

Friday, January 19, 2018

Quote of the Day

Spirituality is…not an individualistic experience of solitude, defined by the amount of time spent in protracted periods of communion alone with God, but  an active obedience to God's commands that practically demonstrates love to others and is integrally involved in Jesus's mission to the world.  Christian spirituality, properly understood is a spirituality of engagement, not withdrawal…There is nothing inherently spiritual about the study of Scripture if that study does not lead to obedient, active application. 

- Andreas Kostenberger



See more quotes on my quote collection blog:  https://snickerdoodlesquotes.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Long Before Luther - By Nathan Busneitz



Long Before Luther by Nathan Busenitz is book that examines history to demonstrate that the concepts of Salvation by faith alone, through grace alone…etc. were not invented by people like Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th Century, as some have claimed.  Rather these concepts are very old, coming from the Scriptures themselves. As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book traces "the heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation".

The book is divided into four parts, part one is, "The Reformers and Justification", which examines what the Reformers believed and where they discovered those beliefs in the Bible.  

Part Two deals with the "Church Before Augustine". "The Reformers looked primarily to Scripture to establish their understanding of justification by grace through faith alone, yet they also claimed secondary affirmation for their position from the writings of Christian leaders throughout church history."  This section examines the beliefs of the early church (I don't feel comfortable/Biblical calling them "Fathers") in regard to justification by grace through faith apart from works, the forensic nature of justification, distinction between justification and sanctification and the imputation of Christ's righteousness.

Part Three, "Augustine and Justification". This gives a close look at Augustine's beliefs regarding salvation.  There is a whole section devoted to this because "The Reformers looked to Augustine more than any other church father in their defense of the doctrine of salvation by grace."

Part 4 "The Church After Augustine" examines the beliefs of Christians who came in between Augustine and Luther.  

Though I think this is a very useful and well written work, I think that there is a more pressing issue in the church today, and that is an elevating the 'Reformers' too much.  Actually, when I first decided to review this book, I was hoping that it was a critique of the near worshipful attitude of the reformers that many, in the church, particularly those who call themselves 'reformed', seem to possess.  It's no wonder that people think the Reformation was the starting point for the 'doctrines of Grace', many professing Christian act as though the 'fullness of time' climaxed at the Reformation, that the faith we hold to originated at that time.  And I critique myself when I say this.  When I was younger I loved learning about the 'Reformers', tended to 'hero-worship' them, and what they taught, and collected quotes from them.  At one point I ended up in a debate with an 'Arminian', over salvation/election,  and he wanted me to stop using quotations by Luther, Calvin and other Christians and just debate by using the Scriptures themselves. I think that that was really helpful to me. And, in thinking back on it, it's rather embarrassing to think how I must have looked, appealing to the writings of many Christians to support my point, rather than primarily using the Bible as the sole authority. Rather than pointing people to the Reformation we should point back to the Formation.  I'm not against the reformers and still admire God's work in and through them, but I think we really should start watching ourselves and make sure that we deal with any 1 Corinthians 3 scenarios. 

But I still like this book. Busenitz does an excellent job in giving written proofs that the 'doctrines of grace' were not invented by the Reformers.  If anyone is struggling with an idea like that I would recommend this book. It's not very long, but it is quite a solid defense of the unoriginality of the Reformers.  When it comes to salvation we don't want to be original, we want to be right in our belief - our eternal souls are at stake!


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

My Rating 5 out of 5 Stars
*****

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and Christianbook.com