Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: The Atheist Who Didn't Exist

In my opinion, anyone associated with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) is definitely worth reading. RZIM is known for its reasoned and cogent approach to apologetics. So, when I had the opportunity to get Andy Bannister’s The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist it was a no brainer. That I could get a free copy from Library Thing just for reviewing it sealed the deal. Let it be known at the outset that I received this book free from Library Thing in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review. This disclaimer makes me compliant with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” The last thing I need is a black SUV with 4 FTC goons pulling up to my house and breaking down my door because I neglected to include a disclaimer. I would not do well in prison.

I was not disappointed with The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. The subtitle tells it all: the dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments. Dr. Bannister sets his sights on the arguments (or rather, the polemical invectives) of the popularizers of what has been termed the New Atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, While atheism is as old as Moses, the modern version is particularly militant and zealous. Bannister notes this in a citation from Stephen Prothero who notes that “the question of God is never far from their minds” (p. 45). Bannister’s approach, however, is not to answer the arguments one by one. He does not present alternative ways of looking at the fossil record, discussing macro-evolution or possible alternatives to the Big Bang. His primary thrust is to look at the arguments that are usually offered by the New Atheists and demonstrate how the arguments in themselves are wretched and nonsensical. Bad arguments do not need refuted; they need only be exposed.
Andy (note the gradual familiarity in this review) casts his premises in a winsome and readable fashion. He makes sense and he makes you smile. His humor does not mean that the subject matter is not serious – it is indeed. It does, nonetheless, help to show how laughable bad arguments are, especially when clothed in the robes of academia.

Get this book and read it. Underline and highlight or whatever you do, but you will love this book. It will make you think and it will generate confidence as you live in a world that has, by and large, fallen hook, line, and sinker for the New Atheist agenda. 

Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich

In the New Testament book of Revelation, there is a curious individual known as “the false prophet.” He is sometimes considered to be the mouthpiece of the Antichrist. If Adolph Hitler was the antichrist, then Josef Goebbels was the false prophet.  Peter Longerich’s new work on this mysterious individual is based upon new scholarship and recently released and translated editions of Goebbels’ personal and private diary. Goebbels brings this man to life for a generation now decades removed from the last World Conflict.

Longerich begins the story in the Berlin Bunker in April of 1945 when, after the suicide of Goebbels’ idol and Hitler’s new wife, and after all attempts at honorable surrender have been exhausted, Josef and Magda Goebbels methodically poison their children then take their own lives. Of all the loyalists who surrounded Hitler during the Third Reich, only the Goebbels choose to remain in the bunker and join der Fuhrer in suicide. 

Goebbels is the story of a rather ordinary man who longed to be something out of the ordinary. Saddled with a disability that affected the way he walked, Josef overcompensated by trying to form himself into an intellectual and scholar. By all reports, he was mediocre at best. However, he did legitimately earn a PhD in Germany and set his sights for a career in academia.

Longerich shows Goebbels as a normal man who experienced broken heartedness, familial love, and the normal passions that any person would possess. There was little clue in his early life that indicated that he would one day become the man who could speak for the Third Reich.

Two important character traits began to emerge in young Josef. The first was his narcissism. He became so completely narcissistic that cruelty to others was considered a legitimate tool if it could be effectively used to support his ego. The second was his growing anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was not unique to Goebbels or the Nazis for that matter. Many in Germany at this time embraced it or overlooked it. In Goebbels it grew to a passion. These two character flaws were to cataclysmically converge when Goebbels met Adolph Hitler. 

Goebbels’ diary entries show a symbiotic relationship between the Fuhrer and his Propaganda Minister. Hitler relied on Goebbels narcissism and Goebbels fed into Hitler’s aggression and anti-Semitism. Sometimes during the account, it is difficult to know who was pulling whose strings. Hitler depended upon the Goebbels family as his surrogate family, and even appears to have been in love with Magda Goebbels. Josef relied upon Hitler to feed his constant need for approval. Though at times frustrated with his indecision, Goebbels looked upon Hitler as almost god-like.

Peter Longerich presents a compelling biography of one of the most notorious men of the 20th century. My version was an audiobook, which I requested from LibraryThing. At times, a hard copy would have been beneficial to recheck names, acronyms, German words, etc. Notwithstanding, this is a great book

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution

Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker present a biased set of questions and answers in 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. They are biased because they are both creationists who take seriously the creation account in Genesis. This book deals with questions that often arise within the context of a literal understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis. The questions are grouped in 6 categories: Questions About the Doctrine of Creation; Questions About Creation and Genesis 1-2; Questions About the Days of Creation; Questions About the Days of Creation;  Questions About the Age of the Earth; Questions About the Fall and the Flood; and Questions About Evolution and Intelligent Design.

In 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, you will find that many of your questions will go unanswered. In fact, you may finish the book with more questions than you had before you began. For example, does the Bible teach a young earth or an old earth? The authors admit that they are divided on the issue, one being an Old Earth Creationist, and the other a Young Earth Creationist. In fact, they identify four major positions that fall under a “creationist” umbrella: young earth creationism, old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism, and intelligent design. They candidly state that, “none of the four views… are without serious problems.”

Keathley and Rooker address topics that have become shibboleths for conservative and fundamentalist Christians, including the influence of Whitcomb and Morris and the work of Archbishop Ussher. Young Earth Creationists, in particular, have been impacted by these works.

The authors are not concerned about converting the reader to a young or old earth position. They do convincingly demonstrate the problems inherent with the evolutionary model and show the reasonableness of the doctrine creation (which they helpfully distinguish between creationism). They devote a section to questions about the historicity of Adam and Eve and the implications that this has regarding one’s view of the New Testament.

I appreciate the Christian humility and charity shown by these authors to those who may disagree with them. For some of us, a particular position on the age of the earth, the length of the days of creation, and a particular view of creationism have been tests of genuine faith. This book lessens the heat of discussion and lets in the light.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: 30 Events

Alton Gansky selected 30 events that impacted the Christian church in his book titled, 30 Events That Shaped the Church – Learning from Scandal, Intrigue, War, and Revival. Of course, there are many more than 30 events that shaped the church; these 30 are, however, the ones chosen by the author.

Some of the events chosen are no-brainers. The Edict of Milan, The first Nicene Council, Gutenberg’s Press, The Reformation, and the Great Awakening in America would undoubtedly show up on most lists of church shaping events. Gansky includes some surprising events – surprising in that they do not rise to the level of The Reformation or Edict of Milan, but are influential nonetheless. Among these are the publication of Ussher’s Chronology, the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jesus Movement, and the rise of movements like the Religious Right and the New Atheism.

This book was easy and delightful to read. It will inform the reader of movements that have gone little noticed in larger treatments. I recommend it.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Books as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

Commentaries are not necessarily designed to be read as one would read a novel or a biography. They are reference books. But I agreed to review A Commentary on Exodus by Duane Garrett for Kregel, so I began to read it as one would read any book. I was surprised to discover the delight that I experienced as I read. Certainly, this commentary has value as a reference work, but it is a good read as well. This is a great addition to the growing Kregel Exegetical Library.

As one would imagine, the commentary begins with a lengthy (145 pages) introduction. In this are included discussions about textual, archaeological, historical, and geographical issues. Since the Documentary Hypothesis has been largely debunked, Garrett does not spend much time with it. He carefully examines the evidence for the dating of Exodus and shows that there is no conclusive evidence to nail down a date. In the end, however, he points out that the dating has no bearing on the message of the book.

After the introduction, the commentary consists of the author’s translation and translational notes provided in footnote form, an outline or “structure” of the passage, commentary, and a section titled “Theological Summary of Key Points.” A working knowledge of Hebrew is vital to understanding the textual and translational issues, but the non-Hebrew student will not be completely lost in this commentary.

One of the battle ground issues in the study of Exodus concerns the plagues visited upon Egypt. Some modern commentators view these as naturally occurring phenomena that were given mythical and supernatural status by the compilers of the Pentateuch. Garrett does not dismiss that some of these may have indeed been naturally occurring phenomena. Yet, in most cases, they occurred at the command of Moses, and dissipated likewise at his command. Note:

“…the Bible does not assert that the frogs, mosquitoes, flies and locusts that swarmed over Egypt were specifically created ex nihlo or that the hail fell from a blue sky… Furthermore, to assert that these events do fit within the facts of natural history is not to deny their miraculous nature. The intensity of the plagues, together with the fact that they begin and often end at Moses’ word is proof enough that they were a work of God” (p. 319).

Garrett is aware that the point of the Scripture is to testify of Jesus, and he is quick to run to the gospel in the commentary. Commenting on 32:9-35, he writes, “Moses intercession with God is also analogous to Christ’s heavenly intercession in that the people of Israel did not even know it was happening or that they needed it. So also, our survival depends on Christ’s intercession, even when we are wholly unaware of it” (p. 635).

Once again, Kregel has provided us a great addition to commentaries on the Old Testament canon. Garrett’s A Commentary on Exodus should be included in any library of this pivotal section of the Pentateuch.

 Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

SCOTUS Will Rule

In today’s paper we learn that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has decided to rule on gay marriage in the coming session. This should come as no surprise to culture-watchers. It has never been a matter of “if,” but “when.” At issue is the legality of same sex unions in every state. Currently, 36 states have legalized these marriages. If SCOTUS decides in favor of gay marriage, that decision will overturn the ban in the remaining states.

Obviously, this ruling would have serious implications for organizations that seek to uphold marriage as defined scripturally as one in which a “man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus repeated this in Matt. 19:5 so that the principle can be located in both Testaments. For example, many Rescue Missions, (the ministry with which I am affiliated), have family units that provide emergency shelter for families. If family is redefined, these shelters will need to decide which definition will prevail.

I predict that SCOTUS will rule in favor of gay marriage, allowing same sex couples across the country to enjoy the legal rights and privileges of any married couple. And when this happens, a lament will be heard throughout the land that we have lost ground in the cultural war. Being a contrarian by nature, I offer these observations:

·         We lost the culture war a long time ago. It is doubtful if we were ever winning. While evangelicals were fighting and protesting against same sex marriages and abortion (which we should have done), heterosexual immorality (an archaic phrase if there ever was one) crept in to the church and has become an accepted practice. I know of individuals who are violently opposed to homosexual immorality, but thought little of their own heterosexual immorality.
·         It seems to me that Christianity thrived and flourished and “turned the world upside down” in a culture that was hostile to faith. That Christians would have even considered that they were losing the culture was foreign to them. They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims.

Not only do I predict that SCOTUS will rule in favor of gay marriage, I also predict that, when they do:
  • The gospel will still be the power of God for salvation.
  • Christians will still be called to live counter-culturally
  • Truth will still continue to be offensive to a world estranged from God.
  • Jesus will still be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. SCOTUS will only be SCOTUS.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: The Evangelism Study Bible

When I agreed to review the Evangelism Study Bible, I did so out of a sense of curiosity. My perspective is that all of Scripture is about Christ, and therefore it is all evangelistic in the sense that one can get to the gospel all throughout its pages. I was curious to see how the editors would handle something that that is inherently evangelistic and make it more overtly so. I was also curious to see this Bible because it seems to me that the last thing the church needs is another study Bible.
Now that I have perused the Study Bible and read many of the notes, I readily admit my surprise at how much I enjoyed this work. Several features commend the work. Specifically, it aids in showing that the Bible is a “Jesus book.” The notes in the Evangelism Study Bible help the reader to see Christ, especially in the Old Testament.  In many ways, this is a study Bible for apologetics.  The editors address some of the hard questions and apparent contradictions that sometimes become barriers to belief.

Two additional observations are in order; one of which is practical and the second is somewhat theological. First, I would like to see this Bible offered in a variety of translations. I like the NKJV, but it is not my translation of choice. I understand that this may involve publication and copyright issues, but a wider choice would be nice.

Second, the editors continue to promote a perspective that separates salvation from discipleship. The idea that one can become an entry level Christian and later opt to become (or not to become) a committed follower of Christ has a long history and a vast following. In the notes, discipleship is presented as a costly and attractive option (see the notes on Matthew 16:24-27, p. 1070), but an option nonetheless. The goal in this is to emphasize the free grace of God in salvation, denying any mixture of human effort. This, of course is scriptural and right. But the grace that is free is not cheap. It does more than save a sinner; it transforms him. This complete transformation is taught in verses like 2 Corinthians 5:17 and receives scant comment in the notes. Perhaps if we spoke more about conversions as opposed to salvations we might come closer to the truth.

In all, I like this Study Bible. It offers a different perspective that will be useful for those who are committed to follow Christ’s injunction to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising