Friday, June 4, 2010

This Week in Our Year

Welcome to the blog.  Greetings to any new readers and a fond hello to our old readers!  This week was pretty eventful at Our Year.  We read 4 different books, resulting in 5 reviews.  Here's the rundown:

Wizard and Glass (Book 4 in the Dark Tower Series) by Steven King
same kind of different as me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreeve

Lastly, our book paths crossed this week, resulting in two reviews for the same book: The Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola.  If you are only mildly interested in reading a scathing review without all the time commitment, read -D's review here.  If you are fully interested in reading a scathing review and have about 20 minutes to kill, read -L's review here.   If you are not interested in all, we suggest you skip it all together. 

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shootin' Traitors, Findin' Love, Clickin' Heels, Hopin' for Home

We were left hanging at the end of the last Dark Tower book. Stephen King wanted to bring a little suspense to that last novel and give some expectation to book four of the series. In Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4) we're thrust in right where we left off with Roland and Company aboard Blaine the Choo-Choo. It didn't start as a luxury trip and certainly didn't continue that way as the sped across the wastes. Where the ka-tet(the Gunslinger and his group) ends up is far from their intended destination. They're thrust into an alternate world that no one would be happy to call home.

It's in this alternate universe that Stephen King decides to take the readers back in time to one of the shaping moments in the Gunslingers past. Up until this point, the Dark Tower series has mentioned a few names and a few other tid-bits about the world before it passed on. We're now taken back to a young Roland with his original ka-tet of Alain and Cuthbert. It was a fresh look at Roland and how he became the Gunslinger he is today - even if it's just a small part of a big story. This flashback covers Roland's first love as well and the tragedy that befell them. In a lot of ways, knowing the background helps to strengthen the story going forward. Once you know the reason one acts they way they do you can build that character in a stronger way.

As for writing, Stephen King continues to write an incredible story. He does step off the deep end when it comes to sexuality and coarseness. I guess that I should have known that it would go there at some point, but three books in gave me a false sense of security. I'm assuming that some of this could have been transplanted into a harlequin novel and been right at home. For me, that didn't add much to the story. I could have used less of that and more explanation of the world and it's characters. Perhaps it's a little like the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The American public didn't need to know any details other than that he had an affair and lied under oath about it. Anyhow, It's at this book that I don't know if I can fully recommend this series of books to other readers. I have thoroughly enjoyed the series and will finish it, but 50 pages or so could be eliminated. This is not a book series for every person.

Rating: 7 - excellent progression; equal action and suspense; can't recommend, but will finish the story

Friendship Defined and Explored

But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I'll be one. Forever.
Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them TogetherIt has been a great week for fast reads.  I actually started and finished 3 books in the span of 4 days.  Kinda crazy for me.  The latest book was brought to me on Friday evening by a friend of mine.  She said she read it really fast and recommended it because we (-D and -L) are from Texas.  The book: same kind of different as me.  The book indeed is set in a town I grew up visiting very regularly.  -D was actually born in Fort Worth, my mom was born there.  I know this town.  At least, that is what I thought until I read the book.  At the same time, I was heading downtown for doctor's appointments, dinners, and concerts, there was a whole other drama unfolding just down the street.  It was shocking to hear the names of the places and streets where the action of this story took place and know them.  Not just know them, but picture them in my mind's eye.  Only my eyes had never been opened like they were when I read this book. 

The story is a true one (very hard to believe at times) of a modern-day slave (Denver Moore) and a high-end art dealer (Ron Hall) forming an unlikely friendship that would stand the test of some very difficult circumstances.  The events surrounding the meeting of these friends are common enough - a couple decides to volunteer their time down at the Rescue Mission and meets a homeless man.  But the force that drove them together is beyond normal experience.  What results is a modern-day covenant relationship - an actual declaration of true, lasting friendship - that is tested.  It is a picture of the Jonathan-David relationship seen in 1 Samuel.  It is a thing of beauty. 

My favorite line from the entire book, is one that made me cry just at the thought of the commitment.  It is the promise: "But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I'll be one.  Forever."  This caused me to think that I have never had to ask for or declare a friendship with another person.  All my friends just, sort of, happened.  But the context of this statement gives it weight.  The man who said this, Denver, had never let anyone close, never let anyone in.  And here, the one person you think would not understand friendship at all, is the one who defines it in the most simple terms possible.   The promise is reciprocated by Ron, "Denver, if you'll be my friend, I promise not to catch and release." 

I loved this book and devoured it by the half.  I truly believe they should have done some sort of cross-promotion with Kleenex (If you buy the book, you get a free box).  I cried most of the afternoon yesterday until I had to start making dinner.  Then, while I was getting dinner together, I cried some more.  Then, while dinner was simmering, I cried some more.  Sometimes you just need a good cry and yesterday was the day.  Most people aren't as sappy as me (I literally cried in the movie King Ralph!), but this book is a moving portrait of friendship, commitment, and faith. 

Rating: 6 of 7


What is your favorite book about friendship?

The Weight of Water

I learned that night that love is never as ferocious as when you think it is going to leave you.  We are not always allowed this knowledge, and so our love sometimes becomes retrospective. 
The Weight of WaterA tale of love and jealousy.  A tale of what happens when these are the emotions that rule one's life.  This is Anita Shreeve's The Weight of Water.  It is told through recollections and journals of recollections.  It is a novel set in two time periods, one hundred years apart.  The main device in the novel, as one may guess is water.  But a secondary device used to a better purpose is a fisherman's net.  The fisherman's net serves to connect the stories of these disparate women a century apart.  It serves to show the bonds of human relationship that connect people's lives to one another.  And it shows the frailty of human emotion; how all that one holds dear can unravel in the time it takes to prepare a cup of coffee.  This is best portrayed by this statement:

We have done this thing, and then that thing, and then that thing, and I have come to think of our years together as a tightly knotted fisherman's net; not perfectly made perhaps, but so well knit I would have said it could never have been unraveled

All that said, I did not really enjoy reading The Weight of Water.  I found it disjointed, the transitions from one story to the next jarring.  I also thought it odd that these women would write a narrative in the same way, even though they are in different time periods, different cultures, even different languages.  I understand that Shreeve wanted to show a connection between the present day and the past, but I found it unnerving.  The book ends up like listening to a long-winded story-teller who has grown a little rusty in the telling.  There are digressions galore, backstory of backstory.  And all I wanted was to get to the end. 

Also, I don't believe Shreeve left much to the imagination of the reader narratively.  Within the first 70 pages, I thought I knew exactly what had happened and exactly what would happen.  At the end of the book, I was right.  Does that make me smarter than others?  No, I think it means Shreeve didn't hide her hand.  I felt much like one of the narrators: "I have sometimes though that there are moments when you can see it all - and if not the future, then all that has gone before."  She did attempt to make you think you weren't getting the whole story with the inclusion of the line: "No one can know a story's precise reality."  This isn't as compelling a red herring when you read it in context. 

If you are interested in this novel, I recommend a section of pages around pages 69-71.  These are the most compelling literary passages of the entire novel.  All the quotes here in this post are culled from these pages. 
Rating: 2.5 out of 7 (Wish it could have been better)


Jesus Manifesto: Thoughts

The Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ.  Sounds like a great title to me (minus the whole manifesto thing - smacks of something I don't agree with - communism).  However, the devil is in the details on this one.  As I began to unwrap what the authors meant by the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ, I began to notice some discouraging things.  Then my discouragement turned to disagreement, then to disdain.  I really hate to say it, but this one is not worth the paper it is printed on.  It will not make it to a spot on the bookshelves. 

A little harsh you may think.  Well, if you do, I advise you to stop reading now.  If that bothered you, you really are not going to like what comes next. 

Buckle up, as I unpack the book.  I will attempt to categorize my thoughts, but things may bleed into one another.  My apologies:

1.  Context, context, context. Any child of God who is a student of the Word (sad that there is a category of God's children who are not students of the word), discovers very quickly the principles of interpretation of Scripture.  The foremost in this is that context rules the interpretation.  God did not speak any verse of the Bible into a vacuum.  Rather, He knit together the Word of God into a beautiful tapestry of His Glory.  As such, we, as students, cannot get around the fact that each verse is part of a greater whole.  Thus, the first problem with the Manifesto is taking MANY passages referenced out of context.  As a Berean, I am one of those people who read a "Christian" book with a Bible sitting next to me.  I look up almost all of the passages mentioned, to make sure I understand them fully in the context.  This is the best way to figure out "whether these things are so."  I can count up the ones that jumped out to me enough to note them and I need two hands.  Two hands!  This shows me it is not a mere mistake on one passage of Scripture, but an effort to distort the very words of God to fit a philosophy of man.  Here are the "worst" offenders:
From Genesis to Revelation, the forces of evil have disputed God's right to have a home on this earth. But from the beginning, God has wanted a "house" - a place where He could rest and "presence" Himself.
They then reference Isaiah 66:1. Open your Bible to Isaiah 66 and tell me if you get the idea that God needs anything from man. No, he desires nothing of the sort, rather He regards "him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word." At what? At His word - this is the most important thing to God. And who is the Word made flesh? Christ. So, who are we to tremble before? Only Christ.
In a word, Jesus is heaven's passion and occupation.
Really, what about Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4?  What about that little thing God said about not sharing His glory with any other?  In truth, God is the focus of heaven; God, represented by Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb who is among the seven Spirits before the throne.  The book seeks to exalt Christ to the detriment of the other members of the Trinity.  I am all for the exaltation of God, His attributes, His actions, His glory, His revelation, His Word, but I am not going to divide God up into three boxes, two small ones for the Holy Spirit and God and one great, big one for Jesus.  Jesus came that He might glorify the Father.  The Holy Spirit came that He might glorify Jesus.  It seems they are all working for the same goal...glory.
You will never know the depths of Christ on your own. It matters not how intelligent, gifted, or spiritual you may be. It takes a functioning body to know Him fully. And it takes a functioning body to display his fullness. Paul made this clear in Ephesians that we come to know the width, length, depth, and height of Christ 'with all the saints.' It's only by being vitally and organically connected with other members of the body in a living way that we experience the fullness of God.
The problem with this is that they think the saints are the mediating source of knowledge. The "with all the saints" here in Ephesians refers to the saints who have believed in Christ (throughout all time). Consider that OT believers are referred to as "saints" all the way back to Daniel's time; each of these believers came to the full realization of the magnitude of God's love. Also, in this context, Paul refers to the inner man. He is referring to the personal relationship man has with Christ, not the corporate relationship of Christ to His church.  Also, in this context, Paul is speaking of the love of Christ, not the fullness of God.  What Paul prays for is an understanding of God's love that carries out in the life of a believer as a worthy walk (chapters 4-6 of Ephesians).

2. Sorry, Wrong Number: In the places where context was not at best questionable, and at worst misleading, the authors of this book simply got it wrong.  It is shocking that two men could read the same passage of Scripture, reference it a number of times in their book and both get it wrong.  The temptation of Christ is referenced in the book a few times.  Here are some highlights:
Israel was tempted in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days.  In fact, the same temptations that Israel experienced in the wilderness were repeated when Christ was in the wilderness.  To combat them, Jesus quoted the words of Moses to satan. Interestingly, they were the exact same words that Moses gave to Israel when she was tempted. 
The references here are Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13, 16.  Sorry, wrong number.  Each of these verses explicitly bring to remembrance another time where the Lord tested Israel.  Deuteronomy is the summation of the Law, it is the grand review before the great final exam.  These are the last words Moses speaks to the people of God.  They are commands, not admonitions. 

Then, later in the book:
The Holy One's public ministry began only after He faced and outfaced three temptations. The most tantalizing of the three was the temptation to turn the kingdom of God into a political program. Jesus shook off the lure of political theology by stiff-arming it with these words: "My kingdom is not of this world."
Sorry, wrong number: Jesus did not say these words to Satan during the temptation in the wilderness.  In fact, He said them much later in his ministry, almost at the end, when he was speaking to Pilate (John 18:36).  You may think that this is nit-picking, but there is a problem with smashing the word of God together to make it fit something you want it to say.   Oh, but then there is the little problem that Satan's temptations had nothing to with turning Christ's ministry into a political program. It seems to me that is a modern interpretation of the first century opposition to Christ.

3. What about the Holy Spirit?  As I was reading, I started wondering where the Holy Spirit fits into this Manifesto.  But the authors promised a more complete discussion of the Holy Spirit and the Father in chapter 10.  Still, as I continued to read, I grew more and more concerned.  There was in chapter 3 a biography of you, written by God, that was actually the biography of Christ (I am not making this up), but it did not mention the Holy Spirit, except to say, "You must grow, mature, and develop in My Spirit, and, "My [God's] object and the object of the Spirit is to make My beloved Son everything."  The biography spans 13 pages and mentions the Holy Spirit twice.  Hmmm....interesting that what Christ spent chapters in John (14-16) disclosing to the disciples, warrants only a small footnote in the biography of the believer.  There is no explanation that without the power of the Spirit we can do nothing.  No mention that the Spirit is our Helper to guide us into all truth and take what is Christ's and disclose it to us. No mention that the Spirit abides in the life of a believer and will be with us forever.  Such a life changing presence in the life of a child of God and yet, barely a footnote. 
When I finally got to Chapter 10, I found much more of the same: a mere page and a half description of the Trinity and a reference to another book to find out more.

4.  Implantation vs. Indwelling.  With such problems found in chapter 3 regarding the near absence of the Holy Spirit, it is no surprise that chapter 4 finds us further off the track.  Here, the authors begin to discuss the life of Christ in the believer.  Without mentioning the Holy Spirit as the power, we find that:
So instead of having the Spirit of God dwelling in us and empowering us, we are incarnations of Christ.  I don't know how I feel about the implications of this statement.
The good news is as scary as it is good.  It is safe to be "like" Jesus; it is scary to "be" and "do" Jesus...Likewise a Christian should not mean, but be.  Be what?  The living Christ for a dying world.  But to "be" is to give up control and ownership and to share life with the Word made flesh, the very image of the invisible God. The truth is that if we all fully understood what it means that the very being of God wants to take residence in us and share our life, we would all be reluctant incarnations.

5.  What happened to the Scriptures?  Late in the book, we find out the reason for all this confusion regarding context, chapters and verses, and the Holy Spirit.  The authors don't believe the Word of God is what it says it is. 
The Bible is not reader-indifferent or history-independent. Each age draws new insights from the Scriptures based on what that age brings to it. This means that revelation is always veiled in mystery. We bring it to our culture, our history, our gaze, and our glasses. The fundamentalist idea that the text has only one meaning is of relatively recent invention.
We have learned a lot from different perspectives of Jesus: feminist theology, creation theology, process theology, liberation theology, narrative theology, postliberal theology, emergent theology.
All there is to say in regard to this is God does not agree.  Please see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Peter 1:20-25 and 2 Peter 1:19-21.  I could go on regarding the warnings against preaching anything contrary to what the Word says.

6. Bethany: A Home for Christ? The authors of this book, not wanting to leave any stone unturned on the shocking assertions field, discussed at great length the significance of the city of Bethany in the life of Christ.  They spent an entire chapter on it and presented it as a microcosm or a shadow of the church.  The problems I had with this discussion are many, but this is the most important one:
Christ didn't go to Bethany because he wanted a place to call home. He went to Bethany because it was a predetermined place to show the glory of the Father on His road to the cross. There were works in Bethany God had planned for Him to do. And because He was obedient (to the point of death), He fulfilled His mission in Bethany.
This is what Bethany symbolizes - a home for Christ...Bethany is the place where Jesus was utterly welcome.  In contrast to everywhere else He went, Jesus was completely and gladly received in Bethany. 

In fact, he was only welcome in Martha and Mary's home. At least we know the disciples were a little concerned about travelling in that area. In John 11: 8, they said of the proposed trip to Bethany, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and you are going there again?" When was the last time you found a welcoming committee outfitted with welcoming stones?
Besides all these things, did anyone notice that Christ already has a home?  He mentions it a few times during His ministry.  It is called Heaven.  He came from there, where the Father dwells.  He planned on going back. He did not need a home on earth, for He had a much greater one in Heaven.

Whew....that was a long one.  All that to say, I believe to my very core that these teachings are detrimental to the church.  It is out of a love for the brethren that I point these things out.  I urge you to seek the answers to the questions raised in the Word of God.  I urge you to consider that Christ is preeminent (along with the "rest" of God) and that Christ is the Word made flesh.  To diminish the very Word of God is to cut down the Risen Lord.

Rating: 0 out of 7.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Abandon Faith, All Ye who Enter Here

Note: Please see the comments below. In my review, I wasn't as verse-centric as I needed to be. The comments span a few of those.

I picked up the Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ (perhaps the length of the title should have given me pause on this book) through BookSneeze as a free book as long as I review it. The last book that I picked up through them was very interesting so I thought I'd give it another shot. JM, as it shall now be referenced, piqued my interest as a Christian. I agree that too many churches stick to the, "Life is Abundantly Happy - The End" type of message, and that the meat of the belief in Christ is not always taught to the body. I found out that we didn't agree on a lot after that point.

When I opened JM, I was thinking this seems to be starting OK. After the first chapter, I was disappointed with how they appeared to be marginalizing God and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. They didn't come out and say that they weren't as important, but they definitely limited the role of God and Holy Spirit; sort of the cheerleaders of Christ. But that little shove kept the ball rolling throughout the entire book! This wasn't a focus on Christ and the importance to the Church body, but a complete mangling of the faith! I would consider the Bible, the Word of God, the end-all-be-all of what Christ is to us. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, the authors, felt that it was not enough. We started seeing quotes about how we must "understand ourselves" before we can "understand Christ" and other psycho-babble that doesn't belong in anything referencing Scripture. I am only marginally surprised that I did not see a quote from Freud or Richard Dawkins to help explain Christ-centric theology. And out of this fountain of human knowledge comes the idea that we are not to be like Christ but we must become Christ! Can you believe that? I certainly can't!

""We have learned a lot from different perspectives of Jesus: feminist theology, creation theology, process theology, liberation theology, narrative theology, postliberal theology, emergent theology."

Quote Talk: JM doesn't go into detail on any of these items, but any non-denominational Bible-believing Christian will find no solace in the aforementioned theologies. If the authors found these theologies to be enlightening and expressive of who Christ is, then that's enough to throw this book down as heretical. You can go look up some of those and find out that they stand in direct contention to what/who God/Christ is. You'll find things such as God is not omnipotent, God is not unchanging, the Goddess movement, and even expansion into other religions.  Would anyone care to point out where these concepts are proven in the Scriptures. 

In summation, I cannot recommend this book to a believer (new or old) or non-believer for any purpose whatsoever. And I barely scratched the surface on what's horribly wrong with this book! It comes down to the fact that incorrect theology of God the Father, God the Son, and The Holy Spirit is to be thrown out. This is not a good piece of teaching material. It shows the extremes man can go to to explain what's already been explained fully in the Word of God - The Bible. When one has an issue, one goes to the Bible. When one seeks the Lord, one goes to the Bible. When one needs to explain Christ and Salvation, one goes to the Bible. You do not go to a psychologist that directs you to seek what's inside you and to revel in it. Man is not Christ. On top of that, I am actually going to throw this book away. I'll keep many things - blurry pictures that I have duplicates of, books that I'll only read once because I didn't care much for them, or movies that I purchased that were alright. But heresy is worth getting rid of.

This has been a frustrating book to read and review. There is anger that it has the ability to steer folks away from the Truth. The Word of God explains it all. You don't add to it or fundamentally change what Scripture says to attempt to awaken the Church. It's unnerving that the authors ability to state that Christ is the center of the church, but then go outside the Church to find so-called answers to the greatness of God. And it's sad that there are people that truly believe what's being said in this work of fiction and will go down a path that doesn't lead to the true image of Christ.

Rating: 0 - well written garbage is still just garbage - especially when it can lead someone away from what the Scriptures say.


P.S. - My wife is also reading the book so if you want even more in-depth coverage of this you'll be able to get it within the next week or so. I'm also not including this book as part of my yearly challenge. Oh, and I'm going to now write a book called "The Gunslinging Christ: How Christ is Manifested in The Dark Tower Series and the Revelation of Heresy to Explanation".

P.P.S - Check out this Blog for another review of the same book. I'm not including this for another perspective on the theology but for some additional insight. I like Chris' negative comments. Not only is more well written than I am, he also explains some items that I didn't breach. Good blog.