Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: February 20-26

This week I...

finished Isaiah in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
finished Jeremiah in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
finished Lamentations in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
finished Romans in the KJV

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: Don't Call It A Comeback

Don't Call It A Comeback: the Old Faith For a New Day. Edited by Kevin DeYoung. Foreword by D.A. Carson. 2011. Crossway Books. 256 pages.

Don't Call It A Comeback is a collection of essays on evangelicalism. It's divided into three parts: Evangelical History: Looking Forward and Looking Back; Evangelical Theology: Thinking, Feeling, and Believing the Truths That Matter Most; Evangelical Practice: Learning to Live Life God's Way. Here are the chapter titles:

  • The Secret To Reaching the Next Generation by Kevin DeYoung
  • The Story of Evangelicalism from the Beginning and Before by Collin Hansen
  • God: Not Like You by Jonathan Leeman
  • Scripture: How the Bible Is A Book Like No Other by Andy Naselli
  • The Gospel: God's Self-Substitution for Sinners by Greg Gilbert
  • New Birth: "You Must Be Born Again" by Ben Peays
  • Justification: Why the Lord Our Righteousness Is Better News Than The Lord Our Example by Jay Harvey
  • Sanctification: Being Authentically Messed Up Is Not Enough by Owen Strachan
  • Kingdom: Heaven After Earth, Heaven On Earth, Or Something Else Entirely by Russell Moore
  • Jesus Christ: The Only Way and Our Only Hope by Tim Challies
  • It's Sometimes A Wonderful Life: Evangelicals and Vocation by Ted Kluck
  • Social Justice: What's God Got To Do, Got To Do With It by Darrin Patrick
  • Homosexuality: Grace, Truth, and the Need for Gentle Courage by Eric Redmond and Kevin DeYoung
  • Abortion: Why Silence and Inaction Are Not Options for Evangelicals by Justin Taylor
  • Gender Confusion and a Gospel-Shaped Counterculture by Denny Burk
  • The Local Church: Not Always Amazing, But Loved By Jesus by Thabiti Anyabwile
  • Worship: It's A Big Deal by Tullian Tchividjian
  • Missions: The Worship of Jesus and the Joy of All Peoples by David Mathis

I'd say that Don't Call It A Comeback fits nicely into two categories. I see it as both "Christian Living" and "Theology." I won't say that "Christian Living" is more practical, more daily than "Theology." Because I *do* feel that things can be relevant to the mind, to the soul, to the heart. That a book that engages--challenges--what you believe does influence how you live your life.

As a collection of essays, I thought it was strong. While not every reader will *love* every essay, I do think chances are good that you'll find something worth reading, worth your time. I'm sharing some of my favorite quotes from my favorite essays. I didn't include a quote from every essay--even though I found something of worth in each one. But this should give you some idea of what this one is like!

From "The Secret To Reaching The Next Generation":

I've come up with five suggestions for pastors, youth workers, campus staff, and anyone else who wants to pass the faith on to the next generation: Grab them with passion. Win them with love. Hold them with holiness. Challenge them with truth. Amaze them with God. (22)

If our evangelical faith is boring to us, it will be boring to others. If the gospel is old news to you, it will be dull news to everyone else. (23)

Grow in God and you'll make a difference in people's lives. If nothing of spiritual significance is happening in your church, your Bible study, your small group, or your family, it may be because nothing spiritually significant is happening in your life. (25)

I'm convinced that if Christianity is to be a mile wide again in America, it will first have to find a way to be a mile deep. (29)

The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us. So get them with the good news about who God is and what he has done for us. (29)

Don't preach your doubts as mystery. And don't reduce God to your own level. If ever people were starving for a God the size of God, surely it is now. (29)

From "The Gospel: God's Self-Substitution For Sinners":

It's the guilt that makes the cross necessary. Not the feeling of guilt, but the reality of it. (75)

I'm convinced that part of the reason many evangelicals have begun to lose their grasp on the cross is that we have lost sight of why we need to be saved. We've forgotten, and even in some cases deliberately disregarded, what sin is and how profound is its offense to God. (74)

From "New Birth: "You Must Be Born Again"":

We cannot believe unless we are born again. The important factor is that God, in his grace, has enabled both regeneration and faith despite your sin. You believe because God has enabled you to do so. Belief is actually an evidence that someone has experienced the new birth. (91)

From "Justification: The Lord Our Righteousness":

We constantly want to justify ourselves before God, to be good enough without Christ. But God does not want us to trust in our goodness. He does not want us to make up for our past sins through present obedience. He does not want us to think that we are good enough to go to heaven by comparing ourselves to the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. Comparisons are useless when it comes to establishing righteousness before God. God crucified his one and only Son for our justification, and he wants us to trust in him alone. When it comes to being justified, faith plus anything else is quicksand. The only ground for right standing before God is Christ Jesus grabbed ahold of by faith. (101)

From "Jesus Christ: The Only Way and Our Only Hope":

There is only one kind of man--the man trapped in the total depravity of his sinful nature, inherited from his father Adam (Rom. 5:18). And since there is only one kind of man, there is only one kind of salvation--faith through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. (135)

From "The Local Church: Not Always Amazing, But Loved By Jesus":

Intentionally organizing a church where all the members are alike may be a great work of man, but it's not a great work of God. As one theologian put it, it may be little more than self-love spread over a wider area. (205)

From "Worship: It's A Big Deal":

Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn't to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel--and since Christians remain sinners even after they're converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel. (221)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: Operation Bonnet

Operation Bonnet. Kimberly Stuart. 2011. David C. Cook. 272 pages.

I didn't set out to be the town luminary. True, there wasn't exactly a lot of competition in Casper. 

Set in Casper, Ohio, Nellie Monroe, an amateur private-detective, stars in Kimberly Stuart's Operation Bonnet. Her first client, Amos Shetler, is still getting adjusted to his new life. He left the Amish community because he felt he just didn't belong, but the truth is, he hasn't found exactly how to belong in the "English" community either. (Watching Gidget marathons probably isn't helping!) He is still in love with an Amish girl, Katie, but he fears that he'll never see her again. And even if she still loves him, how would their relationship ever be able to work? He's heard that Katie is being courted by John Yoder. And he's very jealous. He wants Nellie to learn if Katie is indeed going to marry this other guy. Nellie thrilled to have her very first case isn't quite sure how to go about it. But. Surely the first step is to try to find a way into the Amish community? But Nellie doesn't exactly "blend" well no matter her location. So expect a very messy comedy of misunderstandings...

The novel also spends a little time on Nellie's personal life. Primarily her loving relationship with her grandmother and her relationship with her best friend, Matt. As soon as Matt's name is mentioned, readers almost know with certainty, that he must surely be in love with her--that he has been in love with her for many, many years. And that Nellie is indeed truly clueless about love. But while there are certainly predictable elements within Operation Bonnet, this novel is so quirky that it almost works.

Operation Bonnet reminded me of Jane Austen's Emma. There is just something so clueless about Nellie. While many readers may enjoy Nellie's adventures (and misadventures), I found them slightly irritating. It wasn't so much that I disliked the book--its story, or its characters--I just felt a slight disconnect.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: February 13-19

This week I...

finished Proverbs in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
finished Ecclesiastes in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
finished Song of Solomon in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
read Isaiah 1-53 in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
read Romans 1-8 in the KJV

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review: The Imagination Station: Attack at the Arena

The Imagination Station: Attack at the Arena. Marianne Hering. Paul McCusker. Adventures in Odyssey. 2011. Tyndale. 128 pages.

Patrick, Beth, and Mr. Whittaker were at Whit's End on Tuesday morning. They were in the workshop getting ready for the Roman adventure. Beth came out of the girls' changing room. Patrick came out of the boys' changing room soon afterward.
The cousins were curious about their ancient Roman costumes. 

I enjoyed this second adventure. (The first adventure was Voyage with the Vikings.) Once again, Beth and Patrick, the stars of the series, are helping Mr. Whitaker on his mission to save Albert. The children aren't exactly sure who Albert is--and how their taking artifacts from different time periods is going to ultimately help save him. But even if they're not exactly sure how this time travel thing works, they know one thing. They are having fun! They are learning so much by experiencing history. This second adventure will take them to Rome. Beth will be going dressed as a slave. Patrick will be going dressed as a monk. The two will learn a great deal about Roman culture--the different classes, for example. Will learn about the weaknesses of this ancient culture, as they witness firsthand the bread and circus mentality. While in Rome, they'll meet a monk named Telemachus, a man who dared stand up to the emperor himself!

I liked this one. It had a little action, a little adventure, and a little history. I liked how faith was part of the story. I liked how this adventure allowed them to practice their faith--to trust in God to see them through. For the intended age group, I thought the writing was strong. It was just as good--if not better--than the Magic Treehouse series titles I've read the past year. (I found it much less annoying.)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: The Imagination Station: Voyage with the Vikings

The Imagination Station: Voyage with the Vikings. Marianne Hering. Paul McCusker. Adventures in Odyssey. 2011. Tyndale. 128 pages.

It all began on a Monday. Beth and her cousin Patrick were at Whit's End. It was a soda shop in a large, old house. Kids thought Whit's End was the best place in town for ice cream. But there was a lot more to Whit's End than scoops and cones. It had more rooms than Patrick could count. Down the hallway was a radio studio. And a theater to perform plays. Plus a library. On the second floor, there was a large model train. And the Bible Room. It was like a kids' museum.

Beth and Patrick star in this time-traveling adventure for young readers. Voyage with the Vikings is the first in a new series. And this first adventure in Imagination Station--a time machine of sorts--takes them back in time, back to the time of the Vikings. This adventure brings them face to face with Leif Ericson. Their mission is to bring back a sunstone, an item needed to help rescue Albert from Lord Darkthorn. But this mission won't be easy. For they may just end up enslaved if they're not careful.

I liked this one. It had a little action, a little adventure, and a little history. I liked how faith was part of the story. I liked how this adventure allowed them to practice their faith--to trust in God to see them through. For the intended age group, I thought the writing was strong. It was just as good--if not better--than the Magic Treehouse series titles I've read the past year. (I found it much less annoying.)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: The Legacy of the King James Bible

The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation. Leland Ryken. 2011. Crossway. 272 pages.

What is the actual origin of the King James Bible? 

 The Legacy of the King James Bible is divided into four sections: Part One: The King James Bible In Its Own Day (In the Beginning, From Tyndale to the King James Bible, The Making of the King James Bible, The King James Bible of 1611), Part Two: The King James Bible in History (The Influence of the King James Bible on the History of Bible Translation, The Influence of the King James Bible on Language, Education, and Religion, The Influence of the King James Bible on Culture), Part Three: The King James Bible as a Literary Masterpiece (What Makes an English Bible Literary? Prose Style in the King James Bible, Poetic Effects in the King James Bible, Acclaim for the King James Bible by the Literary Establishment), Part Four: The Literary Influence of the King James Bible (Literature and the Bible, Early Literary Influence of the King James Bible, The Nineteenth Century, The Modern Era). Each division has its strengths and weaknesses. Each struggles, perhaps, with relevance and finding an audience. There were times I asked myself: Who is this book written for? Who is this author trying to reach?

THE KING JAMES BIBLE IN ITS OWN DAY. This first section held the most interest for me. Though to be honest, I have an interest in early translations of the Bible. I have read the Wycliffe New Testament. I have read the Tyndale New Testament. I have plans to read the Geneva Bible (1599 edition). So I appreciated the fact that Ryken spent a few chapters discussing these early translations of the Bible, discussing how these translations influenced one another, the circumstances of their publication, their strengths and weaknesses.

THE KING JAMES BIBLE IN HISTORY. I was most interested on "The Influence of the King James Bible on the History of Bible Translation." I'll confess again, I'm one of those that actually read the translators' notes and prefaces at the beginning of the bible. In fact, that's one of the first things I do when I buy a bible. I read the introductions and prefaces to the bible translation and to that specific bible. Still, I think it's fascinating to discuss the different philosophies behind translation. (Word-for-word versus thought-for-thought. OR "Essentially Literal Translation" versus "Dynamic Equivalence.") It highlights some translations over others as being in the tradition of the King James Version. (RSV, NKJV, NASB, ESV)

THE KING JAMES BIBLE AS A LITERARY MASTERPIECE. "It is literary when it preserves the literary qualities of the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek form." (121). This section requires effort, but, for the most part, the effort is worth it. I think it is important to consider the genres of the Bible. I think it is important to recognize that some translators do a better job than others--at maintaining the beautiful, complex simplicity of the Bible. But this section isn't without its difficulties--its flaws. The vocabulary is, well, difficult especially in the poetry section. And are readers really willing to use a dictionary several times per page?! (To save you the trouble, lapidary is an adjective that can be defined as "having the elegance and precision associated with inscriptions on monumental stone".) The last chapter in this section, I found practically irrelevant. Unless the reader is obsessed with "The Literary Establishment" and is intimately acquainted with all its members, this name-dropping session may leave readers with a so what? Will knowing what T.S. Eliot thought of the King James Bible change my life in any way? Will it change how I feel about the Bible? Will it change the way I read the Bible? Will my faith be strengthened?

THE LITERARY INFLUENCE OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE. Personally, I found this section the weakest in terms of relevance to readers. More name-dropping. If you have a degree in English literature, you will probably recognize some of the authors mentioned: John Milton, George Herbert, John Bunyan, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, T.S. Eliot, etc. Some of these authors were believers--of some variety or another--but not all of them. He includes plenty of unbelievers in these chapters too. Again the focus isn't on the Bible--in terms of it being the word of God, in terms of it being gospel-truth, it is on the Bible as literature. Is this information interesting? Perhaps in small doses.
I *did* find the Steinbeck section interesting.

THE AFTERWORD. I did NOT like this afterword. His argument is perhaps worded too strongly, and his argument isn't well-supported. He essentially blames all the world's woes on the fact that the KJV is no longer the "common English Bible in both the church and culture at large." He writes, "it is a fact that the English Bible is no longer accepted as an authoritative book in the public spheres that I have explored in this book--religion, education, law, politics, and the arts" (230). He also connects biblical illiteracy--both in and out of church circles--with the introduction of other Bible translations. He goes so far as to say, "The very proliferation of translations has discouraged the Christian public from seeking to know what the Bible actually says" (230). I think it is one thing to argue that the KJV is a "better" translation than more modern translations (The Message, New Living, New International Version, etc.), it is quite another to take his argument as far as he does. He oversimplifies for one thing, and glamorizes "the good old days." My problem? He doesn't show cause and effect. He doesn't really try to connect the dots in his arguments. The authority of the Bible, for example, has been "attacked" for centuries--questioned for many generations. I'd definitely trace that back to the nineteenth century, at least, with the school of higher criticism and the search for a historical Jesus. He doesn't even mention the political and legal aspects of separation of church and state. Couldn't that have something to do with the Bible not being accepted as an "authoritative" book in public spheres? And since the "cultural" influence on education in previous centuries often included passages of the Bible directly into text books, then it only makes sense that God's removal from public schools would lead to this decline. And this "cultural Christianity" is something that I have issue with. Is "cultural Christianity" beneficial in an eternal way? If a person's faith is sincere, if it goes beyond the surface, beyond generic identification as "Christian," then it's real, it's lasting. It isn't something that can be diminished by a new translation. Perhaps, cultural Christianity has its roots in actual believers. But that doesn't mean the next generation and the next generation and the next generation would necessarily be true believers and followers. Faith has to be personal. It's not something that your parents, grandparents, and culture can give you. Biblical illiteracy. Is it a problem? Yes! But not because of different Bible translations! The reason people are biblically illiterate? They are too lazy, too unwilling to make God a priority, too willing to make a thousand excuses as to why it's impossible for them to read the Bible, and they're definitely too in love with the world. They'd rather be doing anything else with their time. If you want to read more about this, I'd recommend Taking Back The Good Book by Woodrow Kroll.

All of these quotes are from Taking Back The Good Book--also published by Crossway.

Bible illiteracy has more to do with inattention than inability. For our purposes here when I talk about Bible illiteracy in America, the definition relates to a lack of familiarity with the Bible, not to a lack of ability to read it. Bible illiteracy is not the unfortunate, unintentional inability to read and understand Scripture; it is the unfortunate, intentional neglect of Scripture. (58)

A huge disconnect exists between owning a Bible and reading it. Simply put, the number of people who claim to read the Bible isn't supported by their knowledge of the Bible (66).

Some people choose not to read the Bible because they're afraid it will contradict what they've already made up their mind to do. But the Bible isn't a dialogue between God and us. It's a revelation from him to us. The Bible should be our guide to life, not a sometimes-support for our pre-existing belief system. (71)

The Bible is read by people who choose to read it. Bible reading is neglected by people who choose to neglect it. It's just that simple. No excuses. Just honesty. (77)

If you don't take the Book in your life and read it consistently, you are saying to its Author, "I don't care enough about you or your Book to read it." That's what Bible literacy means to God. It means you love him, and you show it. It means you worship him, and you show it. It means you thirst for him, and you show it. Isn't it time we did some serious thinking about just how Bible-literate we are? Isn't it time for you to do some thinking? (151)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: Lady in the Mist

Lady in the Mist. Laurie Alice Eakes. 2011. Revell. 402 pages.

"I'm sorry." Tabitha Eckles dared not look Harlan Wilkins in the eye. If she witnessed even a flicker of grief, the floodgates of her own tears would spring open and drown her good sense in a moment when she needed all of it. "I did everything I could to save your wife."

Our heroine, Tabitha, is a midwife, an unmarried midwife. Our novel is set in 1809 as tensions between England and the United States are growing. Her work takes her out all hours of the day and night. And, for some in town, she poses a risk. Because she might just witness something that she's not supposed to. For strange things have been happening in town in recent months. Men have been disappearing. Men forced to join the British navy against their will. There are definitely men who pose a danger for our young heroine. But not all the dangers are obvious.

There are two men in Tabitha's life. One is her former fiance, Raleigh. He left her at the altar and broke her heart. He may be back in town. He may be wanting to speak gently, tenderly, wanting to make amends. But just because he's ready, doesn't mean she is. For his leaving was just one of the many tragedies in recent years which made her stop believing in God--others being the death of several family members. The second man is an indentured servant named Dominick. He seems dangerous. She first sees him at night--or early morning--a time when he should definitely not be out of the house. The fact that he's British and wandering around on the beach. Well, it's odd. But not wanting him to be punished, not having any real proof that he's done anything wrong, she holds her tongue. There is something about him that intrigues her. And they continue to meet as the weeks go by. One man is more than he seems...

I enjoyed this one. I am not sure I LOVED it. But I really enjoyed it. I found it a satisfying read.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: February 6-12

This week I...

finished Psalms in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible
read Proverbs 1-7 in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: When Calls the Heart

When Calls the Heart. Janette Oke. 1983/2005. Bethany House. 224 pages.

It came as a great surprise to me. Oh, not the letter itself. We were all used to the arrival of letters from brother Jonathan. They came quite regularly and always caused a small stir in our household. No, it wasn't the letter, but rather what it contained that caught me completely off guard. And Mother's response to it was even more astounding. 

When Calls the Heart was one of my favorite, favorite books growing up. Before I discovered Anne of Green Gables, before I discovered Gone With The Wind, before I discovered Eugenia Price's dramatic historical sagas, I discovered the glorious historical romances by Janette Oke. It was love. It was LOVE. I haven't read the "Elizabeth" books in decades, so I thought that I would indulge in a reread. Partially inspired by a couple of recent reads (Mrs. Mike and Courting Miss Amsel).

The novel is set in 1910. Our heroine, Elizabeth, is a schoolteacher originally from Toronto. But soon after the novel opens, she decides to accept her brother's invitation. She'll soon be making the journey to Calgary. And from there, she'll receive a teaching assignment. Of course, she's expecting her teaching post to be nearby, but after she annoys Mr. Higgins--by bluntly refusing his marriage proposal--her assignment takes her even further away from civilization--as she knows it. She'll be on her own for the first time.

The novel follows her 'adventures' and 'misadventures' as a teacher and a newly independent woman. It is a romance--and a giddy-making romance at that. She takes special notice of a Canadian Mountie, Wynn Delaney. But at first this "romance" is complicated because of a mistaken impression. He is the uncle of one of her students, but she mistakenly believes he is the father--that he's married. That her thoughts of him are most improper. So whenever she sees him, she does her best to ignore him as much as possible. Not even giving him the courtesy she would as a parent of one of her students. But. Once she knows the truth, then this romance can properly begin! Not that she can outrageously flirt with her brother's friend even then. But still. When opportunity comes, she'll take it!

I loved this one. It was just as wonderful as I remembered. There were scenes that I just loved as a kid, and I found myself loving them still.

"I have a confession--about my ankle. I didn't injure it. I pretended. It's fine--I--" I dropped my gaze. No longer could I look into those honest, blue eyes. I turned slightly from him.
"I didn't think you would carry me. I just wanted--a little--a little more time..." I knew that I had to be honest, as much as it humbled me. "I acted like a silly child," I said, making myself look straight into his eyes. "I guess--I guess--I--I wanted your attention--and I--I didn't know how else to get it. I know it was foolish--and I'm--I'm sorry."
Wynn was looking directly at me. His eyes did not scorn or mock me, nor did he look shocked or disgusted. There was an understanding--and, yes, a softness that I had not expected to see. I turned from him lest I would do something very foolish--such as cry, or throw myself into his arms.
"I have confessed my dishonesty to God--and asked for His forgiveness. He has graciously granted it. Now--" My voice was almost a whisper, "now I would like to ask your forgiveness, also."
I felt Wynn's hands on my shoulders and he turned me gently to face him.
"Elizabeth," he said softly, "I can't tell you how much I respect you for what you've just done. Few people--" he hesitated a moment. "You've asked for my forgiveness. I give it--willingly, and now I, in turn, must ask yours."
I know that surprise must have shown on my face.
"Elizabeth, I examined your ankle--remember?"
I nodded.
"It was my choice to carry you--right?"
I just looked at him, not able to follow his thinking.
"Elizabeth, I am trained in first aid--to recognize breaks, and injuries, and sprains--"
I understood then.
"You knew...?"
He nodded, his eyes not leaving mine. I turned from him, confused. What was he saying? He knew that my ankle was not injured when he examined it, yet he had carried me and held me close against his chest. Was it to shame me? To see how far I would let the charade go?
As I spoke, my back was still toward him. He paced to the window where he stood looking out on the darkness.
"Why?" he echoed. "I should think it rather obvious."
He stood for a moment, and then, his somber mood changed. He crossed back to me, his Mounties' hat in his hand ready to be placed on his head. I knew that he was leaving. The twinkle of humor had returned to his eyes and made the corner of his lips twitch slightly. 
"And frankly, Elizabeth," he said through that controlled smile, "I've never enjoyed anything more." And with a slight nod he departed, and the door closed softly behind him. (203-4)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: Passport Through Darkness

Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances. Kimberly L. Smith. 2011. David C. Cook. 256 pages.

I stood at a precipice, a crag of rock in a parched, thirsty land that mirrored the condition of my heart.

Kimberly Smith shares her personal stories as she seeks to stop human trafficking. Her mission happened to take her to Africa--to Sudan and Darfur. While there she met a "Lost Boy" (James) who refused to be rescued, who refused to be placed in an American home. He wanted to help his people. His mission might have been small--his resources limited. But come what may, he was going to do something or die trying. It didn't take many days for Kimberly to hear the same call. She had to do something--no matter how small, no matter how limited--to help. It would mean great sacrifice--living away from her husband and children for many months at a time. But she felt called by the Lord to do his will, to be his hands and feet.

The book shares the story of her journey. She relates many of the stories she heard along the way. Stories from men, women, and children. These stories are heartbreaking. These stories don't need emotional embellishment. Told simply, told matter-of-factly, they're moving, compelling, challenging. They are told by speakers dying to be heard, to be listened to. Their stories need to be told; their voices need to be heard. I found Tonj's story particularly compelling.

I would definitely recommend this one. While it isn't an easy book to read, it was so compelling and well-written.

I confessed Tonj, "I fear I would not be as faithful as you have been. I am honored you would trust me with your family's story and humbled to sit with you. Please tell me, how did you manage to suffer such extreme persecution--and even more horrifying--witness the rape and torture of your wife and still not give into the Muslims' demand to worship Allah?"
With his steadfast and simple theology, Tonj replied, "Allah isn't God, so how could I worship him?"
Tonj told me that he'd never owned a Bible and could not read it if he had. He was introduced to Jesus through word of mouth and explained, "I know Jesus is the Son of God and that same Jesus died on the cross for me and my family. Why would I betray Him because of evil men?" (131)

To be a witness for another seemed like such an insignificant call, and yet I had no idea that it would demand everything within me to learn to do this simple thing. (65)

I began to realize--up until I lost Teresa--that I thought faith was about the joy I reaped from walking with Christ. Teresa showed me living a life of faith starts with knowing the whole heart of God--what brings Him joy, and what breaks His heart. Once I knew both of these things, my life began to keep rhythm with His heartbeat, and I found myself reaching out to the Teresas of our world, just as He would. (77)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: January 30-February 5

This week I...

finished 2 Chronicles in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible.
finished Ezra in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible.
finished Nehemiah in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible.
finished Esther in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible.
finished Job in the NLT Large print Slimline Bible.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On Defining and Refining Christian Fiction

Amy from My Friend Amy has been writing about Christian Fiction. I believe there are three so far, the latest being The State of Christian Fiction. Primarily, she discusses two camps of christian fiction. And Annette from A Well-Watered Garden is asking questions as well. Primarily, what is the definition and purpose of Christian Fiction? and What is the mission or goal of Christian fiction?

It isn't as simple to define Christian fiction as you might think. Yes, you could say that it is simply fiction written by Christian authors, published by Christian publishers, and marketed to Christians to entertain and enlighten. That it is fiction that places value and priority on matters of the Christian faith. That there are values and standards held by the author, the publisher, and presumably the reader. There are certainly assumptions held in place when it comes to matters of faith. The belief in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Camp one, as Amy and Annette both pointed out, is about Christian readers finding escape and enjoyment. Fiction for this camp might include chick lit, contemporary romance and/or suspense, historical fiction and/or historical romance. The characters may face challenges. But sometimes these challenges seem a bit unrealistic in that they seem to come mainly from external sources. They may deal with the loss of a husband or child. They may deal with hurricanes, floods, and fires. They may deal with a difficult-to-get-along-with boss. They may have a silly love triangle or two. "Obstacles" in the course of true love. They may even deal with a crisis of faith because of any of the above. But one thing they all seem to have in common is the inevitable happy ending. The reader doesn't doubt for even a minute that everything will work out perfectly in the end. No hard choices will have to be made. No consequences will prove long-lasting. No situation will prove too challenging in the end.

Is there anything wrong with readers seeking escape in fiction?! NO! NEVER! Escape is a completely valid reason to read fiction--yes, even Christian fiction. There is something satisfying about losing yourself in a book. The book may be predictable. The book may be fun--lacking in depth and substance. But it can bring joy and pleasure and relief. There is something relaxing and necessary about this type of reading. It is very soothing and comfortable. And you just can't assume that these are meaningless, superficial, forgettable reads. These can have characters that you love and adore. These can be stories that you want to read and reread.

Camp two, is about Christian readers wanting to find themselves in between the pages of a book. Amy refers to these as edgy reads. I'm not completely comfortable with 'edgy.' Because edgy can slide into gritty. And gritty can at times be translated into "look at me, look at me, I'm in pain, watch me suffer." But this is how I think of camp two. Readers wanting to see reflections of themselves. Readers wanting to be able to relate completely with a book--its characters, its story. Readers wanting a challenge. Perhaps because they realize that the Christian life is all about challenge, struggle, tension, growth, development. That the Christian life is more than being comfortable, being secure, being happy. They want something edgier. Fact: like it or not, sin exists. Sin is part of our nature. We're born sinful. Christ saves us, redeems us, justifies us. But we will NEVER be perfect, never be fully sanctified this side of heaven. We're all "under construction" until then. Yes, he calls us to repent. Yes, he begins to transform our lives. Yes, we're called to abide in Him, grow in Him, walk with Him. But we can't reach holy perfection. Yes, God is living in us, using us to accomplish His will. We're called to be like Him--to love like Him. We're told not to be of the world. We're told to be the called-out ones. Yet, we're called to see the world through His eyes, to reach out in love and compassion. We're called to be his witnesses. We're called to serve the least of these. We are called to be His hands and feet. We're called to give ourselves completely to God. Yet, humanity programs us to be selfish and proud. We're not perfect. We're human. We make mistakes. We sin. He forgives us. He loves us. As we grow in the faith, we should be growing more reliant in Christ, less reliant on ourselves.

Camp two books can be found in the same genres as camp one. The only difference may be that camp two books are sometimes published by secular publishing companies. (Though not always!)

So how does an author accurately capture the Christian life? What is the Christian life supposed to look like anyway? Isn't that subjective in some ways? Aren't there many ways that could accurately be portrayed? I'm not talking about beliefs or creeds. Not really. I'm talking about the daily stuff, the mundane stuff. The how-you-actually-live-your-life seven days a week stuff. The what-are-you-like-driving-stuff. Do you live what you preach? How do you live up to what a Christian is? How do you fall short?

I think one difference is perception. How would readers like the story to go. Do they believe a Christian should look, act, dress, walk, talk a certain way? With no wiggle room? Do they want to read a book from the perspective of this is what the christian life should look like? If people had more faith, prayed more, love and forgave more, didn't give into anger and bitterness, didn't hold grudges against their parents, children, spouses, brothers and sisters, and bosses and coworkers. Always put God first no matter what. Were always nice and gracious. Always practically perfect in every way. Do characters ever seem too perfect?

Another perhaps is that this is part of a bigger argument. Think about the tension between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction. All the baggage, all the labels, all the assumptions. Could the differences between the two camps come from this other argument?

If you're looking for wholesome, inoffensive reading material, you may find plenty within Christian fiction OR in general fiction. I don't know that Christian fiction should be defined as the absence of filth or smut, an absence of certain four-letter words. It would be nicer, perhaps, to define it with something that is present. How does this book portray God? Jesus? Sin? Salvation? Grace? Love? Faith? Hope? Does it deal with the gospel in anyway? Are the characters already Christians? Or are they seekers? Does the author use the book as an opportunity to share the gospel? Does anyone come to faith through the novel? Is this done in a believable way? Does the book deal with loss? pain? sorrow? disappointment? failure? Does anyone struggle within the novel? Not necessarily THE big struggle--whether or not God exists, whether or not God loves them, whether or not Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But faith struggles don't have to be big to be real, to be relevant. I'm reminded of Andrew Peterson's "Faith to Be Strong" and "The Chasing Song" and "No More Faith" and "Loose Change."

When Amy wrote her posts, I was in the middle of a great nonfiction book, A Million Ways To Die. Which oddly enough was PERFECT for this discussion. He specifically talks about the necessary tension in our lives as believers. (Think Romans 7. Specifically Romans 7:15-25.) The good news about Romans 7 is that it is followed by Romans 8. (Or think of 1 John. All of 1 John, for the most part!)

What should a Christian be reading (or watching or listening to)? Should Philippians 4:8 be our guideline? Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Can anything pass that test? Do fictional Christians within books have an easier time of it?

I do believe that it's right to follow your conscience, your heart. I do believe that your faith should guard your eyes and ears and heart--when possible. I do think it's not always possible. Because of our own choices. Sometimes our own bad choices. But I think it's all subjective. What one person feels comfortable with, another wouldn't.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Bible Stories for Boys

Bible Stories for Boys. American Bible Society. Scholastic. 2011. January 2011. 18 pages.

First, I just want to say that I do appreciate the fact that there are publishers out there willing to create and publish Bible story books for children. The fact that Scholastic publishes a few faith-friendly titles a year for young children pleases me.

In this collection the focus is on nine men: Adam, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, Jonah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Jesus. Each man is the subject of a two-page spread. One page shares a bible story through several stanzas of verse, the second page shares an illustration. Here is the poem on Adam:

When God spoke the world into place,
The sky, sun, moon, and stars,
Oceans waved their very first waves;
Green grass stretched out so far.

Lizards, lemurs, and lions
Wandered around the land,
While sea horses, sharks, and seals
Swam just beyond the sand.

And for his final masterpiece,
God breathed life into dust,
Creating man in his image,
The plan for all of us!

Adam and Eve raised the first family.
Adam named the animals too.
As the very first man on earth,
Adam had much to do!

(Genesis 1, 2, 4)

It is always interesting to see how complex stories are simplified "for children." The younger the audience, the simpler they are. But some of the significance, some of the magnificence is in the details. This struck me in particular with the story of Moses, with the exclusion of the ten plagues and the Passover. That miracle, that deliverance is not only THE significant event of Exodus, it is one of the primary events of the entire Old Testament--God delivering HIS people. It is in this story that God reveals his nature, his intentions, his relationship with HIS chosen people. It makes the story weaker, perhaps, to merely write, "Finally, God convinced the king to set his people free." 

The content, for the most part, works. I liked the selection. And the verses--while not the most amazing poetry--are serviceable enough. Together, they make a nice collection of bible stories--for BOYS AND GIRLS. (Though I would have loved, loved, loved to see Elijah instead of Jonah. There are a handful of Elijah stories (or Elisha stories for that matter) that are strong enough, action-oriented enough, miraculous enough that they would have worked really well in this collection! And Elijah would have been a more positive choice than Jonah, perhaps, since Jonah is mainly remembered for being the prophet who continually didn't get it!) 

The illustrations are not amazing. But they are SO MUCH BETTER than the ones included in Bible Stories for Girls. 

While the premise of these two collections doesn't thrill me--the focus on men in the bible for boys, the focus on women in the bible for girls--this collection is much stronger. I still believe that the bible is for everyone.  

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Bible Stories for Girls

Bible Stories for Girls. American Bible Society. Scholastic. 2011. January 2011. 18 pages.

First, I just want to say that I do appreciate the fact that there are publishers out there willing to create and publish Bible story books for children. The fact that Scholastic publishes a few faith-friendly titles a year for young children pleases me.

In this collection the focus is on nine women: Eve, Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, Elizabeth, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Each woman is the subject of a two-page spread. On one side, readers have several stanzas of poetry; on the other side, readers are "blessed" with an illustration. Here is the poem on Eve:

In the beginning of the world,
When the whole earth was new,
God saw that Adam was lonely
And knew just what to do!

God put him in a deep, deep sleep,
And took a rib from his side.
He made Adam a brand-new friend,
The first woman, his bride.

Adam and Even and their children,
The world's first family,
Were created in God's likeness--
And so were you and me!

(Genesis 2, 4)

It is always interesting as an adult reader--as an adult believer--to read Bible stories written for children. Interesting to see what is there--and not there! In this example, the authors (never mentioned by name) skip over the 'fall' of mankind. There's no mention of sin. Its inclusion might interrupt the "flow" of the poem, no doubt. But sin is significant enough--not only in the lives of Adam and Eve and their descendants--but to you and me in our daily lives--that this omission makes a difference*. It's a missed opportunity to present a glimpse of the gospel truth.

Other entries are done better in this collection. I found nothing to question. My main issue with this book is not the content--whether it is biblical enough or age-appropriate. No, my MAIN issue with the book is in the art and design of it. I've never seen another bible story book quite like it. Every illustrated page has glitter on it. Not just a little glitter, a LOT of glitter. Did the skins God provided for Eve after the fall really sparkle and shine with glitter?! I think not! Does the fuzzy little sheep sitting cozily by Sarah really need glitter to make it cuter?! Does Moses need to be wrapped in a glittery blue blanket before being put in the river?! Would Ruth have been out gathering in the fields in a glittery pink robe?! Would Boaz really have a blue glittery headdress?! Would he have been respected by the men in the community if he had?! And then there's the illustration for Hannah. It's not sad enough that Hannah is bedazzled in purple glitter. But Samuel has to be wearing pink glittery robes?! And Eli, the high priest, is wearing glitter practically head to toe. (I certainly don't remember that from Exodus and Leviticus!) Esther, on the other hand, the queen whom you might expect to be wearing the most glitter of anyone within this book, is surprisingly tastefully done. I mean if you *have* to wear glitter at all. It's best in small doses, right?! Another flaw, in my opinion, is how pink it is. How unnaturally pink it is. Pink trees in the Garden of Eden? A pink stable to house the newborn Christ? A pink tomb from which the risen Lord emerges?

The premise. I'm not convinced--and it will take some doing I imagine to get me there--that boys and girls need separate bible story books. Or such stereotypical ones at least where the content varies as much. I'm not convinced that girls only need to learn about girl bible characters, and boys only need to learn about boy bible characters. I think the bible is for everyone. And I think girls need to learn about Noah, David, and JESUS! Jesus is only included as an aside in the stories of Mary and Mary Magdalene. Which may be okay if this is one of twenty or so bible story books you own in your home. But still.

*Sin and/or the forbidden fruit are mentioned in MY FIRST READ-ALOUD BIBLE by Mary Batchelor and Penny Boshoff, also published by Scholastic and the American Bible Society. And its beautifully handled in Sally Lloyd-Jones THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE published by Zonderkidz. And in MIGHTY ACTS of GOD by Starr Meade published by Crossway.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: The Robe

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. Introduction by Andrew M. Greeley. 1942/1999. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 528 pages.

Because she was only fifteen and busy with her growing up, Lucia's periods of reflection were brief and infrequent; but this morning she felt weighted with responsibility. 

The Robe concerns two men--one a master, a Roman Tribune, and one a slave. Both men are on the search for the truth about a certain Galilean, Jesus. Marcellus, a soldier, was there at the Crucifixion. In fact, he was the one who 'won' the seamless robe. But the robe, at first, acts as a negative force--a reminder of the worst day and night of his life. It reminds him of his guilt--though he hadn't been in Jerusalem many days--he was just there for the Passover--he knew the man to be innocent of the charges brought against him. Demetrius, his slave, views the robe quite differently. For him, it's a positive force. He gets this peaceful, warm-and-fuzzy feeling when he touches it. Though ordered to destroy the robe, he refuses. For he feels that the robe could heal his master's insanity. He takes the robe with him on their trip to Athens. For Marcellus needs time for his mind to heal from the horrors of what he's seen. While there, he meets a Samaritan man who agrees to mend the robe. Slowly but surely both men befriend this man who teaches them Aramaic. For both men feel drawn to return, to learn more about this man Jesus, to talk to the men and women who followed him. By this time, Marcellus has been "healed" by the robe of his mental distress, his anguish. What will they discover on their journey? What will they learn by talking to these witnesses? What will they learn of Jesus' teachings? his miracles? Will either man believe? And if they do believe, will they be faithful witnesses for Christ? Will they spread the good news, the gospel? Will they be willing to die for their Lord and Savior?

The Robe is an interesting novel. There were sections I found completely compelling. There were sections I grew frustrated. I felt an almost immediate connection with Demetrius. I followed his journey--his physical and spiritual journey with great interest. It was easy to love him. But Marcellus, well, I felt differently towards him. His skepticism annoyed me at times. The way he tried to reason away the supernatural, the miraculous elements of Jesus' ministry. Jesus turning water into wine. Jesus feeding five thousand. Jesus healing the blind, deaf, and lame. Jesus calming the storm. His journey is much slower than Demetrius' journey. And the men and women whom Marcellus speaks with are slow in revealing the gospel, the truth. They just give a few details at a time, a few stories at a time. And they take FOREVER AND A DAY to get to the resurrection. They're worried, of course, that Marcellus won't believe. That Marcellus being a Roman soldier could prove dangerous. And that perhaps it would be better to keep the truth from him. To keep him in the dark. But that frustrates me as well! For the power of the gospel is in the resurrection. There is no gospel without the resurrection. When I read Acts, what is proclaimed first and foremost? The fact that Jesus died and rose again! The early preachers--including the remaining disciples--did not hide the resurrection from their audience worried that revealing this would keep the numbers of followers down. They weren't afraid of being thought foolish by unbelievers. They didn't hide the mysteriousness of the faith. They proclaimed it. They celebrated it.

Another thing that irritated me was Marcellus being fixated on the "good teachings" of Jesus without wanting the miraculous, the divine. Marcellus was wanting to establish a kingdom based on Jesus' teaching without accepting Jesus' divinity.

The good news is that although it took a little over three hundred pages for poor Marcellus to come to faith, he does come to faith. And oh the change it makes in him, oh the transformation Christ brings to his life! Once Marcellus believes that Jesus is the Son of God, once Marcellus believes in the resurrection and the second coming, then things start to happen! Marcellus will definitely have an opportunity to spread the gospel with others--beginning with the emperor himself. Marcellus is also hoping that his fiancee, Diana, will believe.

I found the novel interesting, and I liked it. But I'm not sure it was love.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible