Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains

Tales of the Kingdom by David & Karen Mains is an allegorical story about characters who live in a magical world with bad guys and good guys.  I have vague memories of hearing this book as a child, and I  I recall thinking it was rather interesting, though I didn't remember a lot about it.

As a story it is an interesting tale of girls and boys who find refuge in the forest with the exiled King.  Different lessons are learned by various unique characters, who all find a place in the Kingdom. There are creepy bad guys, like the Enchanter and the Burners and Naysayers.  The book tells stories   about individual people in the various chapters, switching back and forth between some, and introducing new characters in others.  They ultimately fit together very well as an overall story. There is the girl named Dirty, who loved being dirty and lived with the pigs, but comes to realize her horrible situation and wants to be clean.  There is the boy named Scarboy (later Hero) who has a hard time coming to grips with his usefulness while thinking that the scar on his face is an impediment.  There is a princess named Amanda, one of whose skills is spitting with great accuracy. Kind of a strange thing…. There are even stranger characters as well.  Perhaps the weirdest of all is the Ranger  Commander who is also the "Caretaker" who makes flowers and things grow. Think of a hippy who is not opposed to war. 

I need to offer a bit of critique of this book. First, some of the things that happened make me a bit uncomfortable.  For instance, in one place, while the girl Amanda's burn wounds are being cared for (think dragon), the boy, almost a man, Hero is watching. I didn't feel comfortable with that as it mentioned that her clothes had been taken off to care for the wounds.  I don't think that it was meant to be erotic at all but just the concept itself was not decent.

And another thing, If it weren’t meant to be a Christian allegory, I would probably have liked the book more overall, but it is supposed to be Christian allegory.  There are some odd symbolisms that I don't quite understand but My main problem is the portrayal of the King (who seems to represent Christ).  At times he seems serious, but then at others he seems like some sort of happy-go-lucky guy.  Let me quote an example, The King is talking to one of the main children of this story, and he says, "'Can you do this?' He sprang onto his hands and balanced his feet in the air as he moved across the grass.  Hero hadn't spent all afternoon on the practice field for nothing.  He lifted his hands above his head, then went down to the ground with his feet in the air.  He walked around awkwardly until he faced the peasant.  They looked at each other upside down."  That is not the way Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament.  Also, toward the end, a girl who had been rebellious is now coming back but is afraid of how the king will receive her.  "The King folded the weeping child into his arms.  "Don't leave me, Amanda,' he whispered, 'We've all been so lonely without you.'  That is not accurate either, God is not lonely for humans, and not lonely in general (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not need company). He does not need us, and does not lack anything that we can give Him (otherwise, He wouldn't be God).  The loneliest moment, and probably the only lonely moment Jesus has ever had was, not when His disciples forsook Him, but when the Father did so.

But if you just look on it as a story, not an allegory, then it's okay and just an adventure (though it's kind of hard to do that when the king says as a battle cry, speaking of his father, "To the Emperor of All! To the One Who Always Is!". But one could change that while reading it out loud.

The pictures are interesting, I would have enjoyed studying them as a kid, though some are pretty weird.  My little brother loved the picture of Amanda and the Dragon, because he really likes dragons and this one is illustrated well.  He kept asking if he could look at the book, just to examine the dragon picture some more. 

  It would work well as a bedtime story, if you can get your kids to only listen to one or two stories. It is adventurous and well written.  If a little odd. 

Many thanks to the folks at BookCrash for working with the publisher to provide me with a complimentary review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)

My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars ***

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

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes Which Hinder It - by Roland Allen

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church by Roland Allen is a rather short but very thought provoking book.  In it, he somewhat implicitly asks the question, Who builds the Church? Leading to that thought, he critiques our method of Evangelization, are we doing it right? Do we need to organize the expansion of the church?  Do we need to establish mission stations, do we need missionaries who depend upon appeals for money for their support.  Will the Gospel spread if we don't purposefully come up with a plan to spread it?

Allen warns that what we are trying to do in our methods is to organize the work of God, to dictate where people will get saved and a time period in which their salvation must happen.  But as Allen points out, "For spiritual work spiritual organization is necessary; but can we create a spiritual organization of spiritual forces?  Only a divine intelligence can do that.  But we attempt to do the work of that divine intelligence; by fixing our stations and immobilizing our men….But to be God's agents in spiritual movements we must follow, not lead.  We want to lead, and, in trying to lead, we are simply left behind.  We say:  'Here we will have our buildings,' but the spiritual movements may be growing unseen by us in another place and by other means….The organization is always too late.  For we can organize the external results of a spiritual movement, but we cannot organize a spiritual movement. "

 One of the main points of the book  is that we don't need professional missionaries or Christian organizations dedicated to evangelism in order to spread the Gospel. The Church is the only Christian organization promoted by the Bible and therefore we should assume that the Gospel will be spread by means of its members working within that organization rather than in a parachurch organization.  How will the Gospel be spread in other countries? Well, Allen points out that God can use any way He wants. He can use a member of a local church in Lansing, Michigan going on a business trip to Ethiopia to spread the Gospel to an Ethiopian he meets in the process of doing whatever work he does there.  Let's say he talks to Ethiopian about the Gospel, the Ethiopian believes, and the American Christian gives him a Bible and goes back to America, as his business is done. But even though that American Christian leaves, the Ethiopian studies the Bible given to him, and spreads the Gospel to his fellow Ethiopians and thus a church can springs up, without there being any money having ever been particularly dedicated to spreading the Gospel in that area of Ethiopia.  Christ will build His church.

Interestingly, Allen points out that the "great commission" is not repeated in the epistles, and the Apostles did not make evangelistic appeals to the churches, they didn't give out calls for people volunteer to go into far away countries to spread the Gospel.  They apparently assumed that the Holy Spirit would bring individual church members to the right people and to the right places without their needing to organize the work or plan it out.  This may sound absurd today, but we don't need "Professional Missionaries", all Christians are missionaries.  He points out that people "have been obsessed with the idea that a man to express his missionary zeal properly must be a member of some other body within the Church and that church membership is not sufficient." 

 Oh, and by the way, this guy was writing in the 1920s! It is still so applicable to today, perhaps more so than even in his day.

Another thing that Allen critiques that really seems to be prominent in our day is the "Social Gospel"; warning that feeding the poor and helping the sick is not the Gospel itself. You really can't preach the Gospel without "using words".  "'Seek ye first,' said Christ, 'the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Putting intellectual enlightenment and social reform first in time, we have, by deeds which speak louder than words, taught men to seek 'all these things' first, and some today justify their action by identifying intellectual enlightenment and social and political reform with the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  To identify the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness with social and political doctrines always has led, and always must lead, to disaster.  The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness are founded in Christ, but these doctrines and reforms can easily be divorced from Christ, and are pursued by many who won no allegiance to Christ." To apply this today, ending world slavery, creating democracies and republics, is not the Gospel of Christ.  Somewhere in the book Allen says something along the lines of: A person can become a vibrant Christian and remain a slave, a person can be a dedicated, enthusiastic Christian and live in a country ruled by a dictator, a Christian can be a joyful Christian and be malnourished.  A change of outward circumstances is not the Gospel.  Christ is All-Sufficient, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.  Point to Him first, and anything else that He thinks is needed for the convert will come after their acceptance of Him.

Lastly, Allen greatly laments Christian organizations reliance upon money.  He notices that anytime missionaries see an opportunity for the further spread of the Gospel they make it seem as though it cannot take place without money. Christian organizations unconsciously teach their converts that money is the power of God unto salvation. "They continually bemoan the fact that their greatest difficulty, their most serious anxiety, their most bitter disappointment, arises from the lack of support from home.", lacking the support either of money or of more paid recruits, they assume that the work of God won't get done, not considering that perhaps God doesn't want it to happen their way, perhaps God wants that particular organization to close. That's one of the questions he asks, would a Christian organization be willing to close in order to further its cause if that's what it would take?

There are other things Allen addresses that are quite interesting and intriguing thoughts.  But, to sum up Allen's book:
He warns us that we are trying to make people into New Creations ourselves, essentially taking the job of the Holy Spirit into our own hands.  We don't need to make people moral before they can come to Christ, that will come afterward, we don't need to change people's surrounding  circumstances before they can be a vibrant Christian.  We don't need money to spread the Gospel. We don't need professional missionaries and Christian organizations to spread the Gospel. We don't need money to create a church.  Christ will build His church. 

 I highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers 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

My Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars