Posts from the ‘Book Review’ Category

Book Review: The Searchers

On a dusty road outside Jerusalem, two friends were walking together, discussing events  that had occurred recently. As they walked, they were joined by a seeming stranger who would turn out to be someone they knew quite well. They were about to have a startling encounter with God.

Thus begins Joseph Loconte’s The Searchers, an examination of faith in the midst of a world of doubts. Loconte frames Man’s search for answers with the story of two disciples who meet the risen Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, described in Luke 2:13-35. The story is used as a narrative resting point for an examination of the quest for truth, yet Loconte — a history professor at King’s College in New York City — hardly confines himself to solely the Biblical record as he plumbs the depths and meaning of the tale. Ranging widely through not only history but also literature, philosophy, politics, and film, The Searchers examines the reasons to believe.

Drawing its title from John Wayne’s 1956 film “The Searchers,” the tale of a Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his kidnapped niece, Loconte’s book pushes the reader to ask difficult questions about what our reactions should be when “a great crisis sweeps into our lives, when our dreams turn to powder.” He notes that there is something within humans, an impulse to connect with God — the same impulse that turns the frightened, disillusioned Cleopas and his unknown friend on their walk to Emmaus into bold, unfearing messengers who proclaim the risen Christ.

This impulse, Loconte tells us, seems irrestible in art, literature, and film. Citing such movie classics as Babette’s Feast and great  works of literature such Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author unveils the parallels that connect us to the encounter on the road to Emmaus, and a God who is hidden yet desperate in His desire to reveal Himself and His Son to us. Perhaps the strongest material in the book is how Loconte grapples with the poison of religion, remarking,

By the poison of religion, I don’t mean the problem of Christians who live safe, middle-class, unremarkable lives. The real danger is the pretend factor, the haze of religiosity that tries to conceal the shallowness — and the deepening rot underneath.

The answer to this — and the target at which The Searchers points us toward — is our own authentic encounter with Jesus, causing our hearts to burn within us every bit as much as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Advertisements

Book Review: A Shot of Faith (To the Head)

Let me make a couple of confessions right away about Mitch Stokes’ A Shot of Faith (To the Head):

Confession #1:  I get the giggles from the book’s subtitle, “Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists.” Cranky is just a funny word.

Confession #2:  Some of the arguments Stokes presents make my head hurt. A lot. I felt better when Stokes noted that David Hume — one of the Enlightenment philosophers whose work Stokes dissects — also apparently recognized how headache-inducing some of his logic was, as Stokes says,

“After thinking such thoughts, Hume was known to clear his head with a game of billiards amongst his friends. My guess is that he was also amongst beer.”

This being a Nazarene blog, I am endorsing neither billiards nor beer, but this statement simultaneously makes me feel less of a moron and makes me laugh.

All humor aside, A Shot of Faith is an interesting and useful book. Stokes addresses the arguments of the new atheists, those who are not merely disbelievers but are militantly anti-religion and anti-Church — names such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Stenger, and Harris. The purpose of the book is to provide Christians with the intellectual tools to address the common arguments of atheists. This is done in three sections, each of which tackles a prime atheistic argument.

Section One addresses the chief objection to belief in God, an objection which Stokes identifies as the notion that religious belief is irrational because of the utter lack of evidence for God’s existence.

Section Two addresses the atheist claim that science has shown that God doesn’t exist. Stokes reviews the numerous ways that this claim is supported, and addresses the most significant ones. This section is well-done and if nothing else, Stokes demonstrates that science actually gives us some very compelling reasons to believe in a divine Designer.

Section Three deals with one of the most difficult-to-handle objections to belief in God: the claim that the existence of evil and suffering show that He doesn’t exist. Stokes answers to this are some of the parts that make my brain work very hard to keep up, but here is the gist of it:

  • “There are two versions of the problem of evil, the logical problem and the probabilistic problem.
  • In the case of the logical problem of evil, the existence of God and the existence of evil allegedly result in a full-blown logical contradiction. This problem was solved by showing that there is a logically possible situation in which God and evil exist simultaneously. In particular, it is possible that God couldn’t make free creatures who refrain from evil.
  • In the case of the probabilistic problem of evil, the existence of evil makes it highly unlikely (but not impossible) that God exists. After all, we can’t think of any good reason that he would allow evil. But even though we can’t think of a reason, for all we know, God has very good ones.”

As you might be able to tell from the preceding quote, some of what Stokes has to say is going to be beyond the casual reader. Stokes has a doctorate in philosophy and it shows; much of the book concerns itself with the root philosophical basis of modern atheistic thought and its origins in the Enlightenment period. Yet he has done an excellent job in demonstrating the fallacies that are part and parcel of modern atheist claims. In his conclusion, Stokes is careful to note,

“… the notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards — of which there must be many — their worldview would entirely collapse.

And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape. Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are.

But if the Christian story is true, then there is such a thing as irrationality. And as we saw, those who don’t believe in God are suffering from it. After all, unbelief is caused, in part, by the malfunctioning of the sensus divinitatis.”

This last bit, the mention of the sensus divinitatis, is a significant theme for Stokes. Sensus divinitatis means “sense of the divine,” the term that Calvin used for the inborn tendency to believe in God; Stokes explains that Thomas Aquinas set this in terms of a proclivity to believe in God that was “implanted in us by nature.” While Stokes touches on the reason this innate sense doesn’t function as it ought to in humans — the ravages of sin — he unfortunately doesn’t explore what re-awakens the sensus divinitatis in humans. From a Wesleyan perspective, such an explanation might lead to discussion of prevenient grace, and one of my few real criticisms of the book would be that while Stokes does make clear that restoration of the sensus divinitatis only comes by embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he fails to so much as mention the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit.

Lest one might think that A Shot of Faith is nothing more than an attack on atheists disguised as apologetics, be assured that Stokes reveals his heart in the final words of the book:

” … all of us are damaged goods. Sin has caused some degree of irrationality in us all. And given the extent of the damage, it’s no wonder atheists don’t believe. The real wonder is why anyone believes. The explanation of course, is that God has begun to repair humanity, at an unimaginable cost to himself. And this is really good news.”

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: 1000 Days – The Ministry of Christ

Jonathan Falwell is the senior pastor of a church and the vice-chancellor of spiritual affairs at Liberty University. He also happens to be the son of Jerry Falwell (yes, that Jerry Falwell),  but he’s certainly not riding his father’s coat-tails anywhere in 1000 Days. Falwell begins with the premise that almost universally, human beings have an inner restlessness that drives them. Some are driven by such restlessness, opines Falwell, to climb mountains, others to search for the perfect relationship, while others seek to quench their restlessness through eating. Yet the only answer to this, notes Falwell, is one that Augustine observed in his Confessions: “Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

1000 Days starts with Jesus as the solution to humanity’s restless heart. But Falwell observes that Jesus could have calmed the hearts of men and brought them salvation without doing anything else. However, for the course of three years — the titular 1,000 days — Jesus had a public ministry. And Falwell wants readers to know why that is important:

“He didn’t need to provide this ministry, yet He did anyway, and that is key for us … This intentionality of Jesus’ ministry implies that there is a lot of information in the Scriptures worth grappling with. We need to understand what Jesus said and did during his 1,000 day public ministry so that we can apply His teachings to our lives today.”

What follows is a well-written, easy to engage study of the high points of Jesus’ ministry. It’s obvious that Falwell did his research and scholarship, not being afraid to occasionally discuss the meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word, yet the book goes nowhere near the lofty heights of academic writing that might scare off a reader who is just learning more about Jesus and the Scriptures. Falwell illustrates his points by sharing how he has seen the applications of Jesus’ teachings in his own life — particularly in his role as a father to his children.

One of the most useful parts of 1000 Days is at the end of each chapter. Each chapter ends with three to five questions for individual reflection or small group discussion. These are not shallow questions by any means, not when they are asking for reflection on items such as: “In your most honest moments, where are you spiritually right now, and where do you want to be?” The true goldmine of this book is in the appendix; Falwell provides a Bible Study Guide with Leader’s Helps that makes this ideal as a small group or Sunday school study (particularly, I would think, for a group that may not have a deep foundation the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry). There is also a breakdown of 100 main events in Jesus’ life, making 1000 Days a very practical resource.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

%d bloggers like this: