Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

Don't Waste Your Life is John Piper's call to modern-day believers to a more radical faith walk. In spite of the choppy, repetitive first half of the book, I appreciated his clear-sighted proclamation of a personal righteousness that affects EVERY area of our lives.

Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. (p. 71)

If Christ is an all-satisfying treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. (p. 107)

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." Why don't people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. I am wired by nature to love the same toys the world loves. I'm tempted to call earth "home" and to call luxuries "needs" and to use money the way that unbelievers do. (p. 109, 112)

My Calvinist friends emphasize God's sovereignty and glory. My non-Calvinist friends focus on His love and grace. But the Bible doesn't give us this either/or option. According to Piper, the sole motivation of the Christian life is to live for God's glory. I'm not against the theme of this book. My daily, hourly prayer is that my life will honor and glorify God. But it's because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) And because He loved me when I was completely unworthy of his love. (Rom 5:8) I was astounded at the pains Piper took to evade the word "love" in relationship to God. In fact, the only time he uses it is in the negative sense:

So here is the question to test whether you have been sucked into this world's distortion of love: Would you feel more loved by God if he made much of you, or if he liberated you from the bondage of self-regard, at great cost to himself, so that you enjoy making much of him forever? (p. 36) In other passages he talks of "treasuring" Christ rather than loving Him.

Yes, I agree that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. Yes, "His name and renown is the desire of my heart" (Is 26:8), but I am dumbfounded by statements Piper makes such as, There is no greater joy than joy in the greatness of God. What about His goodness? His steadfast love is the sustaining lifeblood of every Christian. Surely, those who understand His costly love (not the cheap grace that Piper must be referring to) are the most likely to spend and be spent for His glory. (2 Cor 12:15)

Any thoughts on this?


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour

Life was quiet, but far from humdrum. On the still, mirrored surface of a pool even the dip of an insect’s wings will cause commotion. So it was in Eden Village. On the placid surface of existence there the faintest zephyr became a gale that raised waves of excitement; the tiniest happening was an event. It is all a matter of proportion.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings over vintage novels. Though clean and quaint, they are often overly sentimental. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m glad to say that Lilac Girl is one of them. At first I wasn't so sure. In the very first chapter an awkward phrase made the English major in me bristle up. Then there is a ridiculous instance of a man declaring his passion for a woman he has just met. But in subsequent chapters he sees his foolishness. My initial prejudice against the story was soon overcome by its charm.

Wade Herrick and his best friend Ed Craig are partners in a mining enterprise in Colorado. When Ed dies of typhoid, he wills his little house back East to Wade. Wade spends his summer there and learns to love the people of Eden Village, particularly his neighbor Evelyn Walton.

Ralph Henry Barbour (1870-1944) wrote sports novels for boys and occasionally forayed into romantic fiction. Could this be why the book isn’t overly sappy? In any case, I loved it that the protagonists were never coy or excessively insecure. Their conversations were friendly, open and honest – such a breath of fresh air after two recent books I read in which the opposite was true (The Elusive Miss Ellison and Vienna Prelude).

In spite of the ever present question in the mind of anxious readers (“Will he win her?”), an undercurrent of humor makes the book a delightful, light-hearted read. From the hymn-singing maid, to the poetry-quoting old doctor, to a calico cat named Alexander the Great, there are plenty of light moments to balance the heavier ones.


Monday, April 10, 2017

April E-book Deals at Amazon

I combed through this month's offerings at Amazon and found a few good titles:

Fiction: Old Yeller, Jacob I Have Loved by Paterson, and Melanie Dickerson's retellings of fairy tales. (The Fairest Beauty for 99 cents, Silent Songbird, Beautiful Pretender, and Huntress of Thornbeck Forest for $1.99)

Biography: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story (99 cents), and Sully

Christian Interest: He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and Integrity by Henry Cloud


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Genius of Jane Eyre

As an INTJ I rarely gush, but I could jabber like a fool about Jane Eyre. I've read it so many times that I've lost count. I remember writing a paper about the book for my Freshman Composition class in college and having my professor scoff at my infantile gleanings. Whatever.

Thirty-five years later I may not be any more of a literary expert, but I am certainly much more familiar with its main characters and themes. I've read the Brontë family canon and various books about the siblings, but Jane Eyre still stands out to me as the brightest of the family gems.

It's stunning to think that a sheltered pastor's daughter in Victorian England was capable of such beautiful writing, witty repartee, and insights into human nature. This time through I saw dozens of metaphors. parallels, and incidents of foreshadowing that I never noticed before. If you've never read Jane Eyre, please read no farther because I'll be including spoilers.

I loved it that the previous owner of my copy of Jane Eyre
had marked one of my favorite passages.
My favorite discovery was looking up the meaning of Bridewell, one of Rochester and Blanche's charades in Chapter 18. Oh my word! Is it just a coincidence that Bridewell was the first English prison? Could the reference possibly refer to Rochester as a prisoner in a loveless marriage?

Several rich contrasts hit me for the first time in this reading: Jane visited her dying aunt in the room where she had been sent as a child to ask forgiveness for wrongs she had never done. Eight years later she gives her full and free forgiveness there. Then there were the two horrible Reed sisters vs. St. John's sisters. And both Rochester and Jane disdain the worth of their rivals so much as to not be capable of feeling any real jealousy (Miss Vale's lover and Blanche Ingram respectively.) Both St. John Rivers and Mr. Rochester exert a certain power over Jane. She gladly calls one of them her "master" and retains her own identity in his company, but she says of Rivers, "vivacity in me was distasteful to him. I did not enjoy my servitude."

I loved all these revelations because it shows high tightly-knit the story is. It's MUCH more than a  Victorian sensation novel. Someday I'd like to read the annotated version. I'm sure it would reveal even more of Brontë's genius.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Books I read in March

Thanks to the Intentional Christion Reading Challenge at Goodreads, I read three non-fiction books this month. My two favorite fiction titles were Around the World in 80 Days and The Lilac Girl. (both free for Kindle download) Here is a list of all the books...

The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer - better than average Christian fiction
Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love by Homan and Pratt - reviewed here
Jane Eyre - audiobook, a delightful re-read (for the umpteenth time)
Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias - a thought-provoking book about living the faith we believe, reviewed here
The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller - okay
Around the World in 80 Days - audiobook, reviewed here
Vienna Prelude by the Thoenes - Christian historical fiction/WWII
The Lilac Girl by Barbour - better than average vintage fiction (review forthcoming)
Don't Waste Your Life by Piper (review forthcoming)



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

I was delighted with the premise of Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias. He writes, "I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. Apologetics is seen before it is heard."

The book address three components of discipleship: Giving an Answer (addressing the questions of non-believers), Internalizing the Questions and Answers (spiritual transformation), and Living out the Answers. I have to admit I was hoping for more emphasis on the third component since that is what the title implies, but much of the text is given over to apologetics and thus requires a slow, careful reading.

Beyond Opinion covers everything from the authority of scripture, atheism, Islam, the "science vs. faith" dilema, to the importance of understanding the Trinity in order to defend one's faith.

The lack of trinitarian thinking and preaching has exacerbated the prevailing individualism of our culture and has brought it right into our Christian life and practice. If we do not think of God as a relational being in himself, we cannot appreciate the point that we are made to reflect his image in our relationships with one another. (p. 246)

The most helpful chapters to me were on Islam (written by Sam Soloman, a Muslim scholar who later converted to Christianity), Buddhism and Hinduism. I was fascinated by Stuart McAlister's story of imprisonment (for handing out Bibles in a communist country) and his subsequent realization that his theology of suffering was completely inadequate. Chapter 13 (Idolatry, Denial and Self-Deception) was more psychological and didn't quite seem to fit with the others, but every chapter had important ideas to mull over. I even highlighted many of the footnotes.

Great quotes:

The task of the apologist is plainly and simply to remove the doubts and point people to the cross.

Tossing a verbal grenade down the chimney chute will not do.

This is the age of therapy, the domination of market values, where looking good and feeling good replace being good and doing good - and most people don't know the difference.

Our role is to win the person, not the argument.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting a Back to the Classics Challenge for 2017 (I was so late finding out about it that sign-ups are now closed, but I still plan to do it.) Because of the original challenge (50 Classics in 5 years ), I read 48 books on my list! I loved having the gentle pressure to keep chipping away at my goals. As I neared the end of the challenge, I looked around for a new one and found Karen's today. I have many classics I still want to read so I'm adapting some of them to her requirements.

1.  A 19th century classic - The Scarlet Letter (1850).
2.  A 20th century classic - The Heart of the Matter (1948) 
3.  A classic by a woman author. - Uncle Tom's Cabin, Little Women (re-read), or Silas Marner
4.  A classic originally published in another language.  - The Iliad
5.  A classic originally published before 1800. - Shakespeare play
6.  A romance classic. by Trollope or Gaskell (Mary Barton?)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. – Picture of Dorian Gray or House of Seven Gables 
8.  Classic with a Number in the TitleAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne 3/16/17
9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.   - Where the Red Fern Grows, Watership Down, or Old Yeller
10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. (real or imaginary) - Secret Garden (re-read)
11. An award-winning classic - The Yearling

12. A Russian classic. – Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

Other classics I hope to read in the next ten years:
13. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
14. Augustine's Confessions
15. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
16. The Betrothed by Manzoni
17. Bleak House by Dickens
18, 19. Two Brazilian Classics (O Guarani? Jorge Amado or Machado de Assis)
20. Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky
21. Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
22. Chronicles of Wasted Time by Muggeridge
23. The Daughter of Time by Tey
24. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon
25. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
26. Divine Comedy by Dante
27. Dombey and Son by Dickens
28. East of Eden by Steinbeck
29. Everlasting Man by Chesterton
30. Far from the Madding Crowd by Hardy
31. Holy Living and Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor
32. The Inferno by Dante
33. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
34. Journal of a Plague Year by Defoe
35. Journals of James Cook
36. Journals of Lewis and Clark
37. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
38. Kon-Tiki by Heyerdahl
39. Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
40. Lilith by George MacDonald
41. Jungle Book by Kipling
42. Lark Rise to Candleford
43. Madame Bovary by Flaubert
44. Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas
45. Martian Chronicles by Bradbury
46. Morte d'Arthur by Malory
47. O Pioneers! (or My Antonia) by Willa Cather
48. Phantastes by George MacDonald
49. Princess and Curdie (re-read)
50. Red Badge of Courage by Crane
51. Rise of Silas Lapham by Howells
52. The Story of my Life by Keller
53. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
54. (Something by Solzhenitsyn)
55. Things Fall Apart by Achebe
56. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
57. Walden by Thoreau
58. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
59. The Way We Live Now by Trollope 
60. Water Babies by Kingsley (re-read)

Alternate titles: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Irving, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Pickwick Papers, Shakespeare, Origin of the Species by Darwin, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost  by Porter (re-read), Father Brown stories, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Scarlet Pimpernel (re-read), Pursuit of God by Tozer