Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bonhoeffer Quotes from Life Together

I read a couple of books this week and was underwhelmed with both of them. So in lieu of a book review I'll post these two fine quotes on Bible reading by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Since meditation on the scriptures, prayer, and intercession are a service we owe and because the grace of God is found in their service, we should train ourselves to set apart a regular hour for it, as we do for every other service we perform. This is not legalism; it is orderliness and fidelity. (p. 87 in Life Together.)

It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. Often this only diverts us and feeds our vanity. (p. 83)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December Free Download from ChristianAudio.Com

Hi reading friends. I've been busy and forgot to post the free book-of-the-month for December. It's called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by Piper. The title sounds good, but I haven't read it. It's an advent book so you may want to listen to two readings a day till you catch up. Or save it for next year.

Also, Christian Audio is having its twice yearly sale of thousands of titles for $7.50. I only combed through a thousand of the 5,000 titles, but saw many books by Tozer, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Andrew Murray and Wendell Berry. As my blogging friend Barbara once pointed out, an audiobook for the price of a movie ticket is quite a bargain since you can listen to it whenever, and wherever, and for as often as you like.

Two things I was really excited to discover: Lysa TerKeurst's The Best Yes for $2.99. And Mars Hill Audio bulk sets for $7.50. My husband is the most non-materialistic person in the world but he LOVES Mars Hill (It's sort of like NPR for Christians). We gave up our subscription years ago when the budget was tight so I'm thrilled to be able to give him eight back issues for Christmas for around $2 each. An unbelievable deal. (A sample of the show can be found here.)

Be sure you listen to audio samples before ordering any audiobooks. Not all narrators are created equal.

Lastly, I don't get a penny from CA for this plug. Just wanted to pass on savings to fellow book lovers. This sale ends Friday, December 19th, 2014.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer

In Escape from Reason, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) breaks down philosophy into the simplest terms. He begins with the 13th century ideas of Aquinas which separated the world into upper (grace, spiritual matters) and lower (nature, material) categories. He explains how subsequent philosphers used these distinctions to separate man completely from his Creator. This autonomy, instead of bringing freedom, brought chaos to every field of knowledge.

A Christian world view elevates man to the upper region since he is made in the image of God. The secular world view pulls him down to the lower level, since “man apart from a biblical understanding can only go down to the animals.” (p. 26)

Have you ever wondered how people who scoff at the “nonsense” of Christianity can believe in UFOs? Schaeffer explains, “Man made in the image of God cannot live as though he is nothing and thus he places in the upper story all sorts of desperate things.” (p. 53)

Another quote: “The Bible teaches that, though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he will never be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic.” (p. 90)

Escape from Reason was written in 1968 and is part of a trilogy of the philosphical basis of all Schaeffer’s writings. (The other two books are The God Who Is There, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent.)

It  is very dry, but mercifully short and I am glad I made the effort to read it. I was challenged by Schaeffer’s immersion in modern-day thought (1960’s) in an effort to point his listeners to truth. He wrote that it is overwhelmingly selfish to not learn the language (world view) of the people you are trying to reach. 

May we learn to think more carefully and express more thoughtfully what we believe.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Soft Jazz Deals from Amazon

I skim through Amazon's $5 deals every month, but they offer mostly offbeat stuff like Olivia Newton John's Greatest Hits. Some months, however, I hit the jackpot with singers I enjoy from the 40's and 50's. I tend toward minimalism in music, enjoying a clear voice with just one accompanying instrument. (Chris Rice's Hymns Project is a favorite for that reason.)

I have a crush on Mel Torme's voice. But I also enjoy Oscar Peterson, Brazilian Bossa Nova, Ella Fitzgerald and others. Then of course, there's Steve Tyrell who brings a new take on many of the American Songbook standards with his husky voice and joie de vivre. (Note: This $5 album is not his best. A New Standard and It's Magic are much better.)

This month there is a huge offering of classical music too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Many reviews (and the 1975 movie) claim that Philippa is the main character in In This House of Brede, but I would disagree. The central figure in the book is Religious Life and it is shown with a gritty realism that keeps this book from being fluffy. (Why, oh why, are Catholic writers so much better at this than Protestants?)

Brede is an English benedictine monastary where 90 nuns of varying ages and social classes live, work and pray together. Most took their vows as young women, but some, like Phillipa, entered at a later age. All of them come with baggage that doesn´t just go away when they put on their habits. Godden succeeds in showing that being a nun does not exempt one from petty jealousies, baser emotions and deep longings.

Godden paints the ironies of life with a deft touch: The necessity of coming to the end of oneself in order to find oneself (Matthew 16:25), the closed-in Abbey being a more "spacious" place than the open town, and the desire of the nuns to be separate from the world yet needing to belong.

For those with a religious bent (Catholic or Protestant), this novel gives much to ponder. Philippa became a nun to "give herself away," but found later that she had put conditions on how that should be done. (Oswald Chambers echoes this idea in his devotional book, My Utmost, when he says that God sometimes crushes us like grapes to turn us into good wine. We don´t mind the crushing as long as we can choose the hand that does it.- from Sept 30)

In spite of the lack of action, and my disagreements with some Catholic doctrines, I found this to be a deeply compelling book.

(By the way, I have not seen the movie, but L.L. at the Catholic World Report had this to say about it: The movie is hollow and insipid compared to the novel. The novel is like good cheesecake - dense and rich; the movie is like a jello pudding mix by contrast.)

Two other Godden novels I've reviewed are China Court and Kingfishers Catch Fire.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Flesh by Hugh Halter

My teenage son saw the title of this book and almost had a conniption because he thought I was reading something akin to Fifty Shades of Gray. When I explained that the subtitle was "Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth," he breathed a sigh of relief and sauntered back into his room. I'm not sure he even knows what that means, but it sounded theological enough to convince him I hadn't gone off the deep end.

There is much to like about Flesh. Halter takes the pressure of Christians who have been taught that evangelism means counting off on your fingers how many people you have led to the Lord. He defines the concept much more broadly, inviting believers to be more actively engaged in the world by building friendships with non-believers rather than cocooning themselves in their comfy church pews.

He occasionally throws out disturbing (in a good way) ideas that cause you to rethink church norms. Take this example from page 32:[Jesus] didn´t come and take on flesh so that you would someday pray a salvation prayer, go to church, and settle for a semi-religious life. He has bigger hopes and dreams for you than that. He came so that His divine life could actually take root in you and so that you could relate to Him like humans used to before sin messed everything up.

And this from p. 58: The gospel is not news that we can accept Jesus into our lives. The gospel is news that Jesus has accepted us into His life and that we can live His life now. This echoes Galatians 2:20 -  "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..."

Another thing I liked was his emphasis on the price of living incarnationally. To a culture that practically worships comfort, I loved it that Halter says, Living the gospel costs! If you follow Jesus, you will lose energy, time, money, friends, and quite possibly even more. (p. 69)

Although I was greatly encouraged and challenged by the book, I had two major quibbles with Halter's theology. Early in the book he writes, "Here´s the deal. People are not looking for doctrine. They´re looking for a God with skin on, a God they can know, speak with, learn from, struggle with, be honest with, get straight answers from, and connect their lives to." (p. 14) I agree heartily with this statement, but at the same time I worry about the fact that Christian dogma can so cavalierly be thrown out the window.  The gospel is both incarnational (relationships) and theological (truth).

My biggest problem with Halter's book was a strange affirmation he made regarding our humanity. He boldly asserts that Christ did not come to make us more godly, but to make us more human. But nowhere in the Bible does it say, Be human as I am human. Jesus was the perfect, sinless man who came to show us what a perfect, sinless life was like. I get the feeling from Halter that humanness means wearing our warts and weaknesses as badges of honor. This is plain silliness. Our weaknesses define us as fallen sinners, but they should not define us as Christ-followers.  As Oswald Chambers puts it, "The miracle of redemption is that God turns me, the unholy one, into the standard of Himself, the Holy One. He does this by putting into me a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ." (My Utmost, Nov 19). Even Halter admits this when he talks about how all who follow Christ are under "spiritual renovation."

Redemption cannot be limited to salvation from hell. If it doesn't include the promise of transformation, we have only a forlorn hope.

In spite of my disagreements on these points, I really enjoyed Halter's book. His ideas are nothing new, however; they have been freshly worded for a new generation. Previous bestsellers on the subject have been Lifestyle Evangelism by Aldrich (1981) and Out of the Saltshaker by Pippert (1994).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart starts out like a book lover´s dream. Each chapter begins with a delectable quote from a famous classic. The hero of the story, Mortimer Folchart (known as “Mo”), is a “book doctor” who binds up broken books. Three of the main characters are book addicts. Mo is such a gifted reader that he has the ability to read books and make the contents come true. (Years ago he read the book Inkheart out loud and it changed his life forever.) The bad guys in the book can´t read. Obviously, there is a lot here for bibliophiles to savor. So why didn´t I love this book?

For one thing, it was about a hundred pages too long. By page 450, I stopped caring very much about the outcome. (Sadly, I had seen the movie and knew how it would all turn out.)

Secondly, even with the magic qualities of literature woven into the story, Mo never comes across as an appealing protagonist. Meggie, his daughter, and Elinor, an aunt, add interest to the story, but fail to carry it.

Third, the villains are too stereotypical : Rotten to the core with no subtleties of character.

In spite of all this, there were some marvelous quotes:

If you take a book with you on a journey, an odd thing happens; the book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it.. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it . . . yes, books are like flypapers. Memories cling to the printed page better than anything else. (p. 21)

There was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange - familiar voices, friends that never quarrelled with her, clever, powerful friends, daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventures who had travelled far and wide. (p. 21)

Books have to be heavy because the world´s inside them. (p. 25)

So, even though the story never really grabbed me, I enjoyed the great quotes and the good writing. Funke´s book was translated from German into English by Anthea Bell who hails from the U.K., which gave the book a nice British feel.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?