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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Whole Bible Story - by Dr. William H. Marty

The Whole Bible Story: Everything that Happens in the Bible in Plain English by Dr. William H. Marty is a book that endeavors to give you a summarized version of the narrative history in the Bible.  The book starts from the book of Genesis and goes all the way to Paul's captivity at the end of Acts. 

I didn't particularly like this book.  First of all, It isn't the whole story, it is merely a summary of the history given in the Bible.   Much, or rather most, of the recorded dialogue is missing and it is not the most accurate summary of Biblical history.  For instance, in the account of Abraham pleading with the Lord not to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the account omits God's graciousness in assenting to Abraham's repeated request gradually reducing the number of righteous people in the city required to spare it. It just says, "Abraham knew Lot and his family will still living in Sodom, so he pleaded with the Lord to spare at least ten people.  The Lord graciously agreed."  Abraham pleaded that the CITY would not be destroyed if ten righteous people were found in it.  There were not even ten righteous people in the city and so the Lord destroyed the city.  The book accurately goes on to point out that He spared Lot, his wife and daughters. But four people were dragged out of the city before it was destroyed, not ten.  And Lot's wife looked back and was destroyed, so that brings it down to three.  The quotation above does not give an accurate description of the dialogue between Abraham and the Lord.

As another example, in speaking of when Jesus ignored the extrabiblical restrictions the religious leaders  set up in relation to the Sabbath it says, "Because Jesus was more concerned about people than rules, he disregarded their Sabbath restrictions."  This is a grossly misleading statement. I hope that Marty didn't mean that the way it sounds.  Christ was not against rules, He was against misapplying them and misinterpreting the law of God.  If Christ were more concerned about people than about rules then nobody would be in danger of facing eternal condemnation for breaking God's law. But Christ was very concerned about rules, God's Rules.  Jesus Christ came to fulfill God's law in the way it was supposed to be fulfilled, and to show us what obeying God looks like and what God's rules mean.  Christ said, "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."(Mat 5:17-19)

To add to that,  there were translations that are not accurate and misleading partial quotations.  When Christ rebukes Peter by saying, "But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. "(Mat 16:23 ASV)  This book changes it to, "Get away from me, Peter, ' he ordered.  'Though you don't realize it, you are setting a satanic trap for me…"  That sure takes away a lot of the seriousness and the shock of the statement.

Another part the book states, "'Of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John,' said Jesus."  And…….? They left out what He said after that! "For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."(Luk 7:28 KJV) Kind of changes the whole statement, doesn't it? 

My dislike of the book began before I even read it, I looked at the back cover which says that "The events of the Bible are exiting, tender, and at times awe-inspiring, but often the story can get lost among the laws, genealogies, poetry, and instructions."  Those things are an ESSENTIAL part of the "story"!!!!  And God is the One who ordained that they be a part of His Holy book.  Who are we to consider them as being hindrances to understanding what God has given us to learn in His Word? And this overlooks the fact that learning what God says of Himself and learning His commands are just as important, if not more, than even the narrative history! 

Things like the above make me strongly hesitate to recommend this book.

Thanks to Baker Books blogger program for sending me a free review copy of this book (a favorable review was not required)

Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

For Brotherhood & Duty - By Brian R. McEnany

It is fascinating to look back on history and zoom in as it were on the earth to see what God had ordained to happen in a particular country, during a particular time period.  And to focus in on it even further and see what He had planned for individuals. 

For Brotherhood & Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862 by Brian R. McEnany is a very interesting look at a group of some of the young men affected by the Civil War.  They came together in 1858 from north and south of the United States to study at West Point, expecting to serve in the same U. S. military when they graduated.  The secession of many Southern States and the U.S. government advocating military action to subdue those states changed things.  Some of the cadets ended up leaving West Point to join the Confederate states, others took the required oath to be faithful to the Union. 

The author uses West Point Graduate (1862)Tully McCrea's story as a sort of springboard for the others.  After being wounded during the war, McCrea went back to West Point as an instructor while he recovered.  This book imagines what it may have been like for him to look back to his life as a cadet and also his life during the war.  Each chapter begins with a bit of fictionalized imagining of McCrea's daily life as an instructor, events during the day lead up to him having a flashback, as it were, of his and his classmates history. 

This book follows these men from their entrance into West Point, their years of study and discipline up until the events leading up to the Civil War caused friction and division, resolve in many cadets to fight for the union, and in a few others to fight for the rights of the Confederacy.  Then you are led through the war and various battles, observing the actions of various individuals, from this particular West Point class, through the war itself.  I particularly liked that the author uses many excerpts from the men's own accounts of daily events and battles so that you can 'hear things' in their own words, getting an eye-witness' perspective

There were several little tidbits of history that I found quite fascinating. Like the fact that the West Point Campgrounds, which every year were named after a well-known person, had, shortly before the Civil War, been named after Robert E. Lee and also Jefferson Davis. Also, the class of 1862 had instructors who became famous later on in the war, including Edward P. Alexander and John F. Reynolds.  It was intriguing to find that, because of the unique events of the time, the oath that West point cadets took e was changed, twice, to make it clear that they were swearing alliance to the union over the individual states, "I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State…" , and then changed again to be even more strict.  The new oath(s) overrode any particular questions as to which was to have the paramount loyalty, the union, or one's home state.

The Cadets did not all serve in the same part of the military, they were scattered around the U.S. military and the Confederate military. Some took part in battles that others were not involved in, some served closely with fellow classmates, some fought against fellow classmates, some were wounded and some were killed.  The men participated in many famous battles, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, and of course, Gettysburg.  All the way to Appomattox.  There are battle maps and pictures throughout that really help to visualize things.  At the end of the book is a helpful compilation of individual summarized biographies, and pictures, of the Class of 1862.

I learned a lot from this is very interesting and very well-written book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War, or history in general. 

Many thanks to the folks at the University Press of Kentucky for sending me a free review copy (my review did not have to be favorable)!

My rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book may be purchased at Amazon

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice - by John Thornton

This book, Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice, was in a list of books available for review in the book reviewing program of which I'm a member.   The description of this book caught my attention.  It was described as not being the book that the author, John Thornton, intended to write.  He wanted to write about how his family had gotten to a debt free state and wanted to back it up with biblical principles.  But then He went to the Bible to study the topic and found that Jesus' teachings on money shocked him, they really seemed like irresponsible teachings, teachings that didn't seem like the type of instructions that God would give wise stewards to follow.  He put off writing the book for a long time.   I was intrigued by this information and so I requested the book. 

Thornton later decided to dive in and write the book with this perspective,  "If my theology disagrees with God, one of us is wrong, and it's not Him."    Thornton directs us to think about why Christ came to the earth in the first place, "to glorify His Father".  And all of Jesus' teachings, including his teachings on money, stem from this purpose. God does not need money to get things done, and we Christians do not need money either because God supplies all our needs, and he does not need money to do that.

 Thornton makes it clear that being rich does not make you an evil person, nor does being poor make you a good person.  Money is not bad in and of itself, but it does have potential to become an idol when we look to it for peace, security and help.  Poor people can do this just as much as rich people.  The love of money is deceiving, it promises that money can supply all our needs, directing our focus to it rather than to God.  And many also may be deceived by thinking that the Lord's work cannot get done without money (look at all of the Christian ministries out there begging for money!). God can supply our needs however He wants, with or without money. 

Being a wise steward does not mean building up earthly treasure, but building up a heavenly treasure.   "Imagine if you were playing Monopoly, and you were offered the chance to trade in your pink fivers for real ones.  Or better yet, trade the yellow $100 Monopoly bills in for Benjamins.  You'd go straight to the bank and make the exchange.  And  you wouldn't ask how many of the Monopoly bills you could keep.  You'd trade in every last one."  The author demonstrates from the Bible that this is the perspective of a believer.  We are after real treasure, not fake treasure.  A believer doesn't care about storing up treasures on this earth, but storing up treasures in Heaven.  A believer doesn't care about gaining worldly acclaim, but commendation from His Father in Heaven.  A believer's goal is to glorify the Father, to do His will.  And Christ tells us how this is to be done, "Jesus explains how we can make the most of the lives He has given us…"  Many of the means by which Christ says we can glorify the Father are shocking to us, such as letting people sue you and giving them more than they demand of you, by giving to everyone who asks, by letting yourself be wronged financially, even by a brother in Christ, or rather, especially by a brother in Christ. There are some questions about how we are to implement the 'giving to everyone who asks you', and I think that Thornton addresses them pretty well by pointing out that it may be clarified by other biblical truths. 

In this book we are reminded that God wants us to run our whole race, the beginning and end of it, at full speed. This, among other things, involves being wise stewards of everything God has given us, including our use of any money He has allowed us to have.  We look to our Master to give us the standards for how we are to use His property and money, He defines what good stewardship looks like.  And we should not look on our growing old as permission to use God's gifts to us however we want. The thought should not even cross our mind that we will ever reach an age where we will be able to retire from being good stewards of the Lord's gifts. We should not look to slow down as we get old, and enjoy our earthly life, our goal should still be to serve the Father with all the strength He gives us, grasping any opportunity He gives us to serve Him and invest in eternal things.  Thornton laments that some older Christians do not desire to end their spiritual race at full speed, and yet hypocritically ,"We condemn our brother who squanders his early years, all the time longing to squander our later ones."

All in all, I think that this is an excellent book, pointing us back to the Lord as our Master, and reminding us that we are to live a life of faith.  We must trust that God really is infinitely wiser than we are, even when we think that His commands are not humanly logical.  As Thornton says, "God has a better plan for our lives than we do", God knows best whether or not our earthly richness or poorness will bring the most glory to Himself.  And we Christians desire to be content with His sovereign placement of us in this earthly life.  

Many thanks to MoodyPublishers 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 (among other places), Christian Book Distributors and Amazon

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

I am consistently struck during my travels how a bond is immediately created with other believers, regardless of the cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences between us.    In many respects, this bond is stronger than the biological bonds that exist between father and son, or mother and daughter.  In face, Jesus plainly says that his advent will break such biological bonds, and if we are not willing to forsake these natural relationships when necessary, we have no business seeking a supernatural relationship with Christ.    

- Victor Kuligin

Quote from his book:

See more quotes on my quote collection blog:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

Freedom from sin is only granted to Christians.  Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells  believers that they have not been seized by any temptation that cannot be overcome.  He is not talking to non-Christians, who Paul establishes elsewhere are controlled by the sinful flesh and cannot do anything spiritually pleasing to God (Rom. 8:7-8)...."...walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh..."(Gal 5:16-17).  Again, this command is to Christians.  Unbelievers cannot "walk by the Spirit."  However, believers walking by the Spirit have the ability  to "not gratify the desires of the flesh ."  If this is true, that no temptation has ever come across a Christian that is not common to all, and that sin is nothing more than a Christian yielding to his fleshly desires, then how can addiction as commonly understood (i.e., uncontrollable urges and impulses) actually exist for believers?
......Granted, sin can certainly feel irresistible, but perhaps it feels that way because we capitulate to it far too readily.  We have not built up the essential perseverance to repel it.  We have repeatedly said yes, and like muscles that have atrophied from disuse, our spirit has become weak because we have not exercised the fortitude to resist temptation as we ought.

- Victor Kuligin

Quote from his book:

See more quotes on my quote collection blog: