Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Read, Therefore I Share

I don't always write a post about every book I read, though I do keep up with them in the book list up top, as I've said before. However, the first several books I've read this year have all been very good or thought-provoking for me in various ways, so I thought maybe a blog post was worth sharing. Maybe I'm finding my new bent in this blog to be more bookish these days, who knows?

Anyway, I found these books interesting, and I'll give a bit of why here. I suppose you could just read what I have on my book list page since I basically copied this from it, but I've enjoyed these books so much I thought I'd make a post here, too.

1.) 11/22/63 - Stephen King (F).

I enjoyed this story. Time travel stories are fascinating to me, and King address the 'Butterfly Effect throughout this interesting story, and I just find that interesting and mind-bending. It did get me thinking about the time travel genre in general, in terms of worldview implications. In general, time travel stories that I've read tend to have underlying assumptions that are either evolutionary or that we are guided by and impersonal, distant, unfeeling, uncaring force, universe, or fate. However, this is totally against what I believe as a Christian, knowing that God is not impersonal, distant, unfeeling or uncaring, and that He is absolutely sovereign over everything, and all creation and even time. He rules time, He is not bound by it, and nothing is outside His control. So, for that reason, though time travel may 'work' in fictional worlds, I read or watch those stories with care to remember it is only a fictional concept. I believe we are created to be in time, and we will never be able to travel through time the way people in some of the science fiction stories I enjoy (Dr. Who, for example, has a very evolutionary presuppositional base, and though my boys and I enjoy watching it, we often discuss the worldview underlying it). I can enjoy it with those caveats in place when we watch with our discernment on. Time happens just as God intends, and we would never be able to 'change' the past, but it does make for interesting reading to see how secular people wrestle through the implications of changing the past or even thinking about whether the past could be changed if we had the choice, and I find it fascinating that in every instance of time travel books/shows/movies I've experienced, most authors show severe consequences when people mess around with the past, and this book was no exception to that. The only time travel stories I've read where the author seems to present a belief in God and wrestle with it in light of what's happening in the books to any extent are the Margaret Peterson Haddix Missing books that I enjoy reading with caution and discussion with my boys, and they have led to good discussions. The key to reading time travel books is to totally understand you are reading fiction. I say all that because, as you'll see in a moment, the second book on this list has really got me thinking about worldview implications as I watch/read/engage with popular cultural texts, and think carefully as I do so.

Overall, I liked this book and would recommend it more highly except that in good conscience I have to note some language concerns and some subject matter concerns. I haven't read any other Stephen King novels because I am wary of the horror genre in general. I'm prone to pretty vivid nightmares, so I try to steer clear of things that feed that. However, as I read reviews on this, it seemed that it didn't fit the type of novel I've assumed he often writes in that respect, and that was correct. I didn't find this book scary in the horror sense or nightmare inducing. And the language and such and violence, for me, were not a major stumbling block as it wasn't as in-your-face as some books I've not been able to finish for those reasons. I don't tend to automatically dismiss a book for those things, but I am careful about them. Know your temptation weaknesses and limitations when choosing books/shows/movies/etc.

I think I'd recommend this book with caution, remembering that by recommending it doesn't mean I agree with everything in it, but I did enjoy it for the most part. Recommending fiction can be tricky sometimes because not everyone has the same tastes or sensitivites in fiction.

2.) Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective - Ted Turnau (NF).

Here's mostly what I said about this book on my Facebook page the day I finished it: I just finished a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. My brother and sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas, and I have to say it's one of the few nonfiction books I've read that I had as hard a time putting down as I would a fiction book while reading it. I LOVE this book and highly recommend it. I resonated with it because his approach is very much how I already look at popular culture and it helped me further to think through and deepen my understanding of how to engage with books I read, movies I watch, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of popular culture with an intentional, thoughtful, gospel-centered, biblical mindset, thinking it through biblically, and with an eye for witnessing and sharing Christianity with friends and neighbors by recognizing the grace and idolatry within the popular culture texts that we are steeped in, especially as we recognize idols and try to knock them down by recognizing how the gospel applies in all situations.

I really appreciated the fact that he sees popular culture choices as more complex than simply pulling out and avoiding everything or counting numbers of cuss words or violent instances, but he's more interested in context. He uses a very thoughtful and gospel-honoring approach to how to think through the popular culture we live in, rather than mindlessly floating along with it on one hand, or knee-jerk rejecting all of it on the other. In fact, now that my boys are old enough to watch 'older' types of movies and books, this type of approach has been very helpful as we discuss themes and ideas woven throughout the books and movies, etc. that they encounter and even in navigating things they hear from friends and teachers and people in the world around them. We've had some great discussions, and this book is a wonderful tool for helping to hone that approach even more as we think through worldview implications in the pop culture with which we interact, with an eye for recognizing what may be good, but being discerning toward what is not good and learning to recognize hidden idolatries and deceptions in the underlying world views.

I very much appreciated his discussions in part 2 about unhelpful approaches to how to interact with our culture and especially his discussion of postmodernism in that section.

3.) "Another Jesus" Calling - Warren B. Smith (NF). The subtitle of this book tells you what it's about: "How False Christs Are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer." I bought this book for my Kindle because I had heard the author discussing it on the Janet Mefferd show, and I've been concerned about the book "Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for a long time now. So many people quote from that book uncritically and it is ALL over the Christian bookstores and catalogues in various forms, and I find it disturbing that something so questionable is just accepted and embraced so strongly as ok just because it's marketed heavily by the Christian bookstores. This author raises serious and thoughtful concerns about the book that I very much recommend at least hearing and making yourself aware of and thinking about them.

One thing that bothers me is how defensive people get if you even mention that caution might be wise about this (and other) popular books or teachers that are so prominently marketed just about everywhere. Why do we cling so hard to 'devotional' books that maybe do mention the Bible or use Christian sounding language or may use a Bible verse taken out of context to make us unquestioningly accept what is said in the devotional for the day as biblical, but we seem so unsatisfied with the actual Bible? Do you not realize what a treasure we have in our hands with the Bible? And I don't understand why so many people don't seem to care when serious concerns are raised, to not even at least think about why those concerns are being raised and why some of us think they are such a big deal.

These days I am extremely wary of 'devotional books.' In fact, truth be told, I'm wary of the Christian bookstore and pop-Christian culture and Christian books (ESPECIALLY 'Christian' fiction) in general. I hope that doesn't sound cynical. I really don't mean it that way. That's not to say ALL books in those genres are bad, but I'm just saying I'm very, very wary. Pretty much, if it's popular, I'm immediately wary and sense the need to check it out carefully. I think things that are 'Christian' but full of bad or questionable or murky, unclear, sentimentalized theology are actually more dangerous than secular books/movies/etc. that we know aren't written from a supposed 'Christian' perspective.  I think this because, with secular things we KNOW they won't be getting theology right, so we know to have our discernment meters on, and we don't expect to be taught Christian thinking from them (at least, I hope that's the case), but when it's 'Christian' we tend to seem to let our guard down and accept whatever it says as good - "It's all good!" seems to be the attitude. But bad theology baptized as 'good' is WAY more dangerous to my way of thinking.

We have been given the Word of God in the Bible - why are we not as defensive about steeping our thinking in it and guarding our hearts in knowing the truth from error as we are about defending our favorite devotional book or 'Bible teacher'? Why do we run to this author or that book to tell us what they think about the Bible faster than we run to the Bible to study the actual Bible for ourselves? Why are we not much more careful to transform our minds by actually reading the Bible rather than some person's supposed extra biblical words? EVERYTHING we read or experience, whether it claims to be a 'Christian' book or not, needs to be examined and tested through the lens of the Bible. THAT is the word God gave us. THAT is the book we must defend above all the others.

So, yes, I recommend this critique of what is a widely popular devotional book today. One thing it did for me was to open my eyes to certain words and phrases that are popping up all over the place that used to be hallmarks of the New Age movement, and if you know what New Agers mean by them it makes you more aware of them and a little more cautious when you hear them being used in the Christian subculture. We need to be careful and watchful and praying for wisdom against deception. The Bible is full of warnings about this. Please read it and at least consider the concerns he raises if you are someone who has read, is being encouraged to read, or know someone who likes the book "Jesus Calling."

4.) Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese (F). I am only about 50 pages into this one, but I'm already hooked. My mom gave it to me for Christmas, saying she found it very good, and I'm wanting to read it so we can talk about it together once I've finished. It's very well-written and I'm already extremely interested in the story. I'm always thankful for the book suggestions my parents give me - I've read some good ones that way!


Lisa Spence said...

I've never read a King novel but I plan to look for 11/22/63 at my next visit to the library!

Rebekah said...

Lisa, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of it when you finish it!