Wednesday, August 18, 2010

William F. Buckley by Jeremy Lott

Buckley has been called the “Patron Saint of the Conservatives.” (xii) He helped to “midwife” the conservative movement.

People keep coming back to Buckley, mostly for his arguments, wit and wisdom. Lott proposes that most people are missing something – Buckley’s religion, the inspiration for and frame of Buckley’s politics. It was his religion that made Buckley truly interesting and a thorn in the side of many.
Lott’s idea in writing this concise biography (the 140 pages can be read in an evening) is to recount the public life of Buckley, present an argument as to the role he played, and show that he saw himself as a sort of prophet.
In a selective treatment of Buckley’s life we see Buckley at Yale, a short time in the CIA, assistant manager at a right-wing magazine, transfiguring and promoting Barry Goldwater, running for mayor of New York, a television career, writing for Playboy, his racism and writing fiction.
Lott’s account is not always even and smooth. He spends pages arguing that the Buckleys should not be likened to the Kennedys. He ends one chapter on Buckley writing a book about McCarthy and starts the next by listing the people involved in the early National Review, only writing about the founding of the magazine pages later.
Oddly enough, Lott’s book is missing what he accuses other of missing: Buckley’s religion. While Lott does speak to Buckley’s confrontation with the Catholic Church, we never find out what Buckley believed as a Catholic and how it did inspire and frame his politics.
This book is for those who want a quick introduction to Buckley’s role in the rise of the conservative movement. Those wanting an in depth understanding of Buckley must look elsewhere.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is an extraordinary book. It is not just the story of a girl in Nazi Germany. It is about love, pain, loss, and, well…life.

Zusak is a gifted writer, a true wordsmith. Even though much of the subject matter of the book was gruesome, the writing was so well done the book was a delight to read.
It is no wonder that the book is a best seller. It is no wonder that it has been chosen for book discussions and “community reads” projects.
I don’t know how to describe the book. You’ll just have to read it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Undaunted by Zoya Phan

Phan is part of the Karen ethnic group of Burma, most of whom are animists.  She tells her own story of her childhood in the lush jungles of Burma.  Her family, along with thousands of others of the Karen tribe, escaped to Thailand to avoid the ethnic cleansing of the ruling junta.  She was in the refugee camps for years until she was able to obtain scholarships that allowed her to go to college in Bangkok.
Upon graduation, Phan went back to see her homeland.  She saw the devastation.  She was told of the atrocities.  The Burmese government found out of her journey and placed her on a hit list.  She was later able to escape to England (on a forged passport) to continue her studies.
Phan's father was part of the resistance movement and was assassinated while Phan was in England.  She is committed to carrying on the work of trying to establish a free Burma.  
Reading this book was not easy.  It is difficult to read about one ethnic group's hatred of another and the carnage that results.  Yet Phan's story is compelling and needs to be heard. 

A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Rockness

Rockness has written an engaging book on the life of Lilias Trotter.  Trotter was an accomplished artist yet gave up a career in art to follow the call of Christ.  She left England in 1888 and traveled to Algiers.  Except for times of recuperation (she had heart problems), Trotter would spend the rest of her life bringing the gospel to the Algerians.  She was respected and well loved by those for whom she labored.
Much of this book is based on Trotter's diary and other writings.  Trotter saw events, flowers and animals as object lessons about God, His character and His work.  She wrote a number of books and booklets, now mostly out of print. 
An Appendix gives selections from Trotter's writings.  A suggestion from one, titled Focussed, gives an idea of the depth of Trotter's work.  "Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory."  (332-3)  Such was the commitment of her own life.
I highly recommend this inspirational biography of a life committed to the service of Christ.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur

John MacArthur takes Jude 3 seriously. We have been given the command to “contend earnestly for the faith.” MacArthur rejects the postmodern concept that Christians should be in conversation with other world views. Christians are to stand firm for what they believe.
MacArthur uses Jesus as our example. Some say Jesus’ ministry was characterized by pacifism, not contention. MacArthur argues that Jesus confronted those whose beliefs were in direct conflict with the heart of the gospel. Jesus had a running battle with the chief hypocrites of His day, and He was not winsome in His encounters. (20) There was “no effort on Jesus’ part to be ‘nice’ toward the Pharisees.” (21)
One of the many examples MacArthur gives from the life of Christ is that found in John 5. “Jesus is not doing any bridge building with the religious establishment here; he is upbraiding them, and none too gently.” (121) MacArthur notes, “They needed some harsh words.” The gracious reason for the harsh words was their salvation.
MacArthur notes that in Mathew 6 Jesus “painted a colorful word picture, actually making a humorous parody of the Pharisees’ spiritual flamboyance. He was using sanctified mockery to expose the silliness of their system. By the standard of today’s over tolerant evangelical subculture, such satire would be deemed a mercilessly cruel way to point out the faults of one’s adversaries.” (142)
Throughout the book, I was concerned that MacArthur was giving a license to judge. He did note that we are admonished to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). “So an underlying assumption is that we must judge carefully and biblically.” (145)
I was also concerned that MacArthur used sinless Jesus, “omniscient God incarnate” (191) as our example. We imperfect human beings can never judge perfectly. He finally addresses this issue in his epilogue. He acknowledges that Jesus has all divine wisdom and omniscience available to Him, unlike us. MacArthur also realizes John 5:22 says that the Father committed all judgment to the Son. (202,3) MacArthur reminds the reader of humility and caution. “We need to remember that we are indeed prone to misjudgments and errors of our own.” (205) We must be willing to give and to suffer. We must be humble. “Scripture commends meekness, commands us to be peacemakers, instructs us to be gentle, and forbids us to judge what we cannot appraise righteously.” (205)
MacArthur adds, “But none of that gives us any reason to suspend judgment altogether.” (206) “...[W]e have some fighting to do.” (206) If you wince at the “aggressive attitude” that MacArthur prescribes for doctrinal error, “you need to review and rethink what the entire New Testament says about false teachers and how Christians should respond to them...” (206)
MacArthur closes his epilogue with the warnings Jesus gives to the various churches in Revelation. “It is clear from those letters to the churches in Revelation that battling heresy is a duty Christ expects every Christian to be devoted to.” (208)
MacArthur did not convince this imperfect Christian that I can judge righteously and should, in fact, be doing so. I go back to the book of Jude and his account of the archangel Michael, contending with the devil over the body of Moses. “He did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” (Jude 9) The same biblical writer who admonished us to contend for the faith also spoke of “blasphemous judgment.” I plan to pray more and judge less.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.