Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker

Danny is a priest acting as God's avenger. He thoroughly researches evil characters the police cannot or will not touch. When he is convinced of their guilt, he kidnaps them and gives them a chance to change their ways. If not, he kills them.
His first deed of vengeance was while he was yet a teen in Bosnia. He had survived an attack while his mother and sister were brutally murdered. He was able to kill the men who did it.
He comes across a young woman, Renee, a past drug addict, who desperately wants to avenge the murder of her lover/husband. He reluctantly takes her under his wing and shows her the way.

There is lots more to the story but this gives an idea of the plot. There are plenty of twists and turns in this novel. One wonders more than once whose really the bad guy. When it looks like the wrong man may have been murdered, the whole issue of judgment comes to the surface. Does any one of us really have the right to judge and declare one guilty?

I've read many of Dekker's books. Some, when I've finished, I have to admit that I just didn't get it. With this novel, I think I got it. The story is straightforward, no fantasy or strange happenings. Just good and evil. Granted, some of the evil is cloaked, but it all comes out in the end.

This was a rewarding read. I'd recommend it for those who like to read thrillers but also be challenged with moral dilemmas. The last third of the book is filled with so many twists and revelations, it will keep you reading to the last page.

Center Street, 368 pages.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Constantine Codex by Paul Maier

What if the end of the Gospel of Mark was found? What if a continuation of Acts existed?

Shannon Weber, a successful archaeologist, finds a document referring to a third book written by Luke, an Acts volume two. That such a manuscript would be found seemed unlikely, after all these years.
Shannon's scholar husband Jon (Skeleton in God's Closet, More Than a Skeleton) has his life disrupted when a book he wrote on the life of Christ is mistranslated into Arabic. The mistranslation has a slur on Islam and a fatwa is announced. A moderate Muslim scholar challenges Jon to a debate. Jon accepts and it is set to take place in Istanbul.
The Webers plan to work on a project of photographically preserving ancient Christian manuscripts. They continue the planning of the project as Jon prepares for and then successfully completes the debate.
Jon & Shannon receive permission to view the manuscripts held by the Eastern Orthodox Church in Istanbul. They discover one of the fifty copies of the New Testament that the Emperor Constantine authorized Eusebius of Caesarea to prepare. It contains the missing ending to Mark's gospel and the third book Luke wrote to Theophilus, the second book of Acts. It is clearly equal or superior to the Sinaiticus, the Vaticanus, and the Alexandrinus.
The discovery is the property of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as it was found in the basement of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate. The manuscript is left in the possession of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul.
Jon brings back photographs for linguistic study and translation by his group of scholars. For the material study (carbon dating, for example), the Patriarch is invited to America and is asked to bring the codex. When the Patriarch arrives, Jon discovers the Patriarch has delivered a worthless imitation. The codex has been stolen.

Up to this point the novel was pretty exciting. After the codex turns up missing (the first time), the plot line and action gets repetitive. The codex is recovered and then caused to go missing again and is then found again. That seemed a bit much, to me. By that time the intrigue, for me, was gone and it seemed just a device to lengthen the book.
One does learn a great deal in this novel about manuscripts, their evaluation, preservation, interpretation, etc. There are times, however, when I felt the dialogue between characters was very forced. Both people should have known the facts being discussed and the dialogue's only purpose, it seems, was to inform the readers of those facts.

Nonetheless, the are many issues addressed in this novel. Could it ever be that the canon would not be “closed”? Would it be possible to have a truly ecumenical council today, as the church had in the first centuries of its existence?
There is also quite a bit about Islam in the book. One sees the radicals opposing the more moderate believers of that faith.

If you don't know very much about manuscript evidence this would be a great read for you. You'll learn lots.

Paul Maier is a Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University. He has written many novels, nonfiction, children's books and scholarly articles.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Tyndale House Publishers, 416 pages.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Spirit in Baseball by Kathryn Nixon & Ana Boudreau

There are certainly many opportunities for character building in team sports. Nixon and Boudreau show how the fruit of the Spirit can can be practiced in little league baseball. (They have a similar book about football.)
Children are reminded to use self-control when they strike out. They learn patience as they wait their turn to bat. They shout with joy when a teammate gets a home run in the ninth inning to win the game. In a similar way, each of the fruit is explained through baseball.
Designed for young children, the simple text by Kathryn Nixon about each character trait is illustrated with baseball action paintings by Ana Boudreau.
Each fruit is introduced with a Scripture verse, followed by the application from baseball. Each colorful illustration has a tiny fruit hidden on the page for children to find.
But the book is not for children alone. The authors realize that adults also need to use these virtues as much as their little players. Parents and coaches reading this book to little ones will be reminded they are also to be people who live the fruit of the Spirit.
Nixon knows baseball. She is married to Trot Nixon, who was part of the Boston Red Sox team that won the World Series in 2004. She was impressed with the team's strength both physically and spiritually. She says, “I wanted to show children that they can be a strong Christian and share those beliefs with their teammates while still being an exceptional player.”
The book ends with inspirational words from Trot Nixon, an illustration of a list of the fruit of the Spirit, a baseball prayer, and a page for autographs.

Kathryn Nixon was involved in many sports growing up. She met Trot at NC State. They were married and he was drafted by the Red Sox. The year the Red Sox won the World Series, she was inspired to write this book.

Ana Boudreau grew up with the dream of being an artist and illustrator. She met Nixon while painting murals in Nixon's church. They struck up a friendship and began planing these books.

See a book trailer, more about the authors and lots more information at:

The Spirit in Sports Publishing, hardcover, $14.99.

I received a copy of this book from The B&B Media Group on behalf of the authors for the purpose of this review.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Forever After by Deborah Raney

In this novel, the second of the Hanover Falls series, a year has passed since the fatal homeless shelter fire.
Jenna Morgan has been trying to get her life together since the fiery death of her husband. She has gone through what little life insurance Zach had, and she spent his meager pension checks as fast as they came in. She is behind on the mortgage and has maxed out her credit cards. She decides she will have to sell the house. As much as she hates to, she decides to move in with her wealthy in-laws. He relationship with her mother-in-law Clarissa is antagonistic and it is not long before Jenna is told she must leave. The problem is Jenna's friendship with Bryn. Bryn was responsible for the fatal fire and Zach's parents have never forgiven her. Bryn has paid for her actions and many in the community have forgiven her, as has Jenna.
Lucas Vermontez survived that fire but still struggles to walk with a cane. More than thirty bones in his legs and feet had been shattered. His dream was to get back to firefighting but he wondered if it was impossible. Lucas had cried out to God as he lay crushed in the fire. God had not saved his father from death in the fire. God had allowed Lucas to live. But for what purpose?
Lucas happens to run into Jenna at the Java Joint. She remembers him, one of Zach's friends from the firehouse. Their meeting initiates a growing but troubled relationship. Lucas is a committed Christian and Jenna hasn't darkened the door of a church in years. Jenna has deep secrets she does not want to share with Lucas and he is frustrated with her frequent withdrawal. When Bryn needs someone to take her dog before she marries, Jenna suggests Lucas.
As Jenna and Lucas continue to develop their relationship, Jenna overcomes some of her hurts and fears. It is not until she has an accident while driving in a surprise snow storm does she find what she has needed all her life. But she is out of sight of the rescuers. Lucas is frantic. Will she be found before it is too late?

Raney's novel is well written. The characters are fully developed. I felt I was right along with their struggles. Christianity was rightly represented as an essential part of the Vermontex family.
I was a little confused regarding Bryn's responsibility for the fire. As one who did not read the first in this series, I felt Raney did not sufficiently review that aspect of the first novel.
Nonetheless, this is a well written and very satisfying novel. The discussion guide included makes this a great choice for reading groups.

Deborah Raney is an accomplished author. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, is an award winning book made into a World Wide Pictures movie. Her other novels have won several awards. She loves to hear from her readers and you can contact her through

I received a copy of this book from Glass Road Publications on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Blackberry Bush by David Housholder

Two babies were born on Nov. 9, 1989, Kati in Bonn and Josh in California. The Berlin Wall was crumbling. Fourteen years later the two are on flights at the same time, flying in opposite directions, switching continents.
Kati is not beautiful like her favored older sister. She doesn't have perfect hair. She's skinny and looks like an awkward boy.
Josh doesn't fit into his family. He cannot live up to his father's expectations. “...[I]t's impossible to please the judges in life. Eventually everyone eliminates you. How can I check out of this game and still stay involved in life?” (139)
Though they have common roots, their lives do not cross paths until they are both twenty one. Then everything changes. Kati knows, “...for the first time in my life, my world has shifted into if I've been walking tilted, and now I'm standing straight.” (152) And Josh realizes, “Only by abandoning all attempts to meet others' expectations can you truly hear the voice of the Spirit and be freed to pursue what God would have you uniquely do.” (167)

This is a haunting book, portraying the physical world as it overlaps the dream world and the world of visions and truth.  In some ways the story seems so simple. In other ways it is so deep I wonder how many times I'd need to read it to mine its depths.

Interwoven through the narrative is the “backstory”, the lives gone before that make us who we are today.
Another main theme is the blackberry bushes seen in each of their hometowns, at her school and at his surfing beach. Housholder says the bushes take over, just like darker parts of human behavior. They represent the thorny thicket that entangles us when face impossible demands.
My favorite theme is balance. Josh's had a favorite painting given to him by his Oma – Vermeer's Vrouw met Weegschaal (Woman with Balance). He feels balanced when he is smooth on his skateboard. Kati feels balanced when she is working with her Opa's tools. A nation lost its balance on 9/11/2011.
A Christian theme runs throughout the story as imperfect characters come to grips with their spiritual heritage and express their own faith.
Another issue Housholder addresses is the teen cultures of today. Josh is part of the sports culture, outdoor oriented, and more conservative. Kati is part of the “scene” culture, with tattoos and studs.

The discussion questions (provided on two levels) help readers pursue important topics posed in this literary work. A couple include: Does everything happen by chance or your life have a bigger plan? How has the tapestry of our past influenced who we are and will become?

It is hard to explain this novel. It is beautifully written. It lingers in the mind. It makes you want to think about your dreams and your parents' dreams. It stimulates your faith that God has a plan. He has been working in your life and will yet work more. You just need to read it.

I received a copy of this book from The B&B Media Group on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.
David Housholder's blog:

Summerside Press, 208 pages.

Friday, June 24, 2011

God Wants You Happy by Father Jonathan Morris

Father Morris was struck one morning by John 10:10. “God wants me and everyone around me to be profoundly happy!” he realized. Yet our “underlying doubt about whether God is capable of intervening in our lives for the good is the engine of the self-help industry... If we begin with the premise that God cannot make a real difference in our lives, it only makes sense to try to work things out all on our own...” (5)
Morris says that never works. True happiness comes through a relationship with our Creator. This is the narrow road Jesus invites us to take. Morris' message in this book is that we can find supernatural happiness in our union with God.
Morris has divided his book into three sections. The Problem explains how we get stuck in our pursuit of happiness and what we can do about it. The Faith-Hope-Love-Cure explains God's plan for bringing us personal fulfillment. And The Program provides daily inspiration for the journey.
Morris likens us to Junior Partners (to the Holy Spirit). We are people who know there is a higher power, a personal God, know we are not Him, and that we need Him. Morris encourages us to take moral inventory then design and follow a practical plan for accountability. He reveals how the devil keeps us stuck and how to break that. He recommends theophostic prayer as a way to heal the damage and pain from past experiences.
He offers a simple model for spiritual growth and personal fulfillment, the Faith-Hope-Love Cure. Through it comes the healing of the mind, memory, and will. The faith involved is not a mere mental exercise. It is an experiential knowing I am loved by God, who I am called to be, etc. We must allow God to enlighten our intellect with the gift of faith.
He offers a simple outline for prayer time, a suggestion for beginners. “Prayer is conversing with God and allowing him to transform your mind and heart according to his perfect will and timing.” (121)
Cynthia, whom Father Morris knew as she was dying, had the following family motto:
“Remember the past with gratitude,
live the present with passion, and
look to the future with confidence.” (190)

“The man or woman of living faith knows and experiences why this present moment is worth living fully. And as a result, that person lives the moment differently, more profoundly, more gratefully, and with transforming intentionality.” (99)

Morris' book is written from an evangelical viewpoint and is wise advice.  He knows where true happiness is found.

Father Morris is a news analyst for the FOX News Channel and serves as parochial vicar at Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral in New York City.

HarperOne, 211 pages.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let God Change Your Life by Greg Laurie

Laurie has written this book about three critical parts of the Christian life: How to know God, Discipleship, and Making Him known.
The book is divided into the three parts. In the first part Laurie shares stories of lives changed by the gospel, including his own. He ends this section with how to know God and how to receive Jesus into your life.
The second part is on discipleship. Laurie notes that many Christians never grow up spiritually. He lays out what it means to be a disciple and grow in faith. The requirements for discipleship are serious. Discipline is an essential ingredient of becoming a disciple of Jesus. “Discipline requires us to set aside our aims, goals, ambitions, and desires. It involves giving up our wills, dreams, and rights.” (83) “The only 'obsession' a disciple should carry is an obsession with Jesus Christ.” (84) Unlike some authors who encourage care of family over church service, Laurie says, “One day your life will come to an end. I assure you of this: you will not regret going to church too much. You will not regret reading your Bible too much.” (107) In this sections he covers the Bible, prayer (using the Lord's Prayer as a model), church (practices of the NT church), discipleship, ministering to others.
In the third section, Laurie says, “...God wants to use you to bring others to Himself.” (177) We don't share the gospel because we are out of touch, living in our own Christian culture. “And honestly, many of us don't care about people who don't know the Lord.” (181) Laurie gives seven principles and three Ws for effective evangelism and ends with the practical effects of salvation.

Laurie reveals his desire for every believer: “Normal Christian living in the New Testament was a passionate, Spirit-empowered, all consuming devotion to God and His Word.” (143)

One area that a new believer might find confusing is the nature of believer. Laurie says, “We all have a new nature and an old nature that are constantly battling.” (244) He tells the story of the two dogs inside and feeding the one you want to win. But later, he says we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. “Reckoning is not claiming a promise in faith, but acting on a fact. God does not command us to be dead to sin; He tells us that we are dead to sin and alive to God...” (246, italics added) I am confused, as I am sure any reader would be. Do I live as if I have two nature yet within me or do I live as if the old nature is dead?

This is a good book for a relatively new Christian. A seasoned Christian would not find much new. Laurie calls us to live the Christian life with passion, as have other authors recently (such as David Platt).

About the Author: Best-selling author Greg Laurie (Gold Medallion winner for The Upside-Down Church, Lost Boy, and more) is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, one of the largest churches in America. Founder of the Harvest Crusade, Laurie’s nationally syndicated radio program, A New Beginning, is broadcast on more than 500 radio outlets around the world. Along with his work at Harvest Ministries, Laurie serves on the board of directors of the  Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, among others.

I received a copy of this book from The B & B Media group on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.

David C Cook, 279 pages.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wounded Healer by Donna Fleisher

Christina McIntyre and Erin Grayson were soldiers during Desert Storm. Part of a medical unit, they saw little action during the short war.
Move forward five years. Each woman has her own life. Erin is married to a doctor. Erin and her husband are part of a Christian ministry outreach in Oregon. Some of the others involved are people from Erin's military days.
Chris lives in a secluded cabin in the snowy mountains of Colorado, part of the San Juan District Three Search and Rescue. When she is attacked by an escaped convict, Chris finally manages to kill him, but not before the convict murders the coworker come to rescue her. The man she thought she could love.
When Eric hears of Chris' experience she decides to go to her. They did not part five years ago on the best of terms but she knows Chris needs her.
Fleisher continues the story of Chris and Erin, a troubled reunion. Interspersed with the current story are flashbacks to their Desert Storm experiences. Chris has had a troubled past and Erin knows only the Lord can deliver her from her inner pain.

I was a bit disappointed in this novel. I was expecting more military experience, as the cover indicated. I also got tired of Chris blowing up and Erin soothing her. Erin's concern with Chris, these five years later, borders on obsession. Even Erin' husband does not understand the relationship and is sorely tested.
The love/hate relationship between Erin and Chris is by far the main theme of the novel. The pain Chris experiences did not come from her military duty but from childhood. The war experience seemed to have little to do with the novel other than to provide a scene for the two women to meet. To me, that is a poor excuse for a novel this is supposed to honor military heroes.
Fleisher lacks writing creativity. When I read that some one's “heart slammed to a stop,” for the third time, I lost appreciation for Fleisher's writing style. (Pages 166, 253, and 287. Erin's heart supposedly stopped twice while Chris' once. Fleisher used this phrase for emphasis only – no 911 calls to rescue the woman with the supposed stopped heart!)
While I wasn't all that impressed with this novel, the gospel is very clearly presented.
There is no reading group guide nor questions for discussion included in the book.

Zondervan, 293 pages.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso

This novel is not for the weak of heart. Nor would I recommend reading it late at night. A disemboweled dog, a live cat thrown into a roaring furnace, a dog beaten to death. Senseless murders. It is not so much scary as it is just gruesome.

Sam Travis is a self employed carpenter living near Gettysburg. Falling off a roof, he suffered a trauma to his head. Months later, he now hears his brother's voice. His brother Tommy. His brother who tortured animals. His brother who was caged in their family basement. His brother, dead for years. His brother is calling him.
One night he hears the guns and canons and screams from the Civil War battlefield. His wife and daughter hear nothing.
And then there is the writing. The writing from his own hand but the words those of Civil War Captain Samuel Whiting describing the Gettysburg battle. Writing about the deaths and the dark thoughts: Kill Lincoln. The writing. It just appears on Sam's desk. The writing is pulling Sam into its darkness.
And then there is Symon. He is heading to the Travis household, just as the voice instructed. His target is the girl, Eva, Sam's daughter. The daughter will be the insurance that Sam will do what the voice wants.
And then there is Jacob. Jacob is Eva's protector. Eva won't let anyone tell her he is imaginary. Jacob is concerned about Eva's daddy. Daddy is going to do something terrible. Eva must pray for her daddy and tell him she loves him, and Jesus loves him.
And then there is Senator Stephen Lincoln. The Senator is prepared to put his name on the bill calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. He knows it would kill his career, his bid for the White House. Or will it? He is going to make the public announcement at Gettysburg.
It comes together in Sam's head. Kill Lincoln. Sam had exceptional sharpshooting skills as a teen. He hasn't fired his rifle in years. He feels compelled to grab his rifle and go to Gettysburg.

Dellosso's novel is gripping. The plot and writing kept my interest through to the end. There is a clear sense of good and evil presented. The gospel is an essential part of the novel's completion. Even though parts of the novel are gruesome, it is very readable and compelling.
I did feel there were a few loose ends. I understood the demonic influence over Symon. But I was a bit puzzled over the writing Sam did. I felt that at the end there could have been a better explanation as to how that happened (not just that Whiting was an ancestor.) Was this the result of a generational curse? Was this a demonic kind of automatic writing? Was it something from the Marxist group? And we never did find out how the window breaking fit in. (Just to get a policeman there and increase the body count?)
Nonetheless, these issues are minor and do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the novel. If you like novels on spiritual warfare, you'll like this one.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Buy the book from

I am only one of several bloggers reviewing Darkness Follows this blog tour. See the reviews by others participating in this tour:

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Huge the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

A teenager's choices during the darkness of World War II will change him forever.

Julien is a fifteen year old, dismayed at having to relocate from Paris to Tanieux, his father's hometown in southern France. His father will teach in a new school in this village. In the early stages of World War II, Julien's father is hoping that the Germans will not invade that far into southern France.
Julien is treated like an outsider, a condition that worsens as his parents take in a Jewish boy, Benjamin. Julien sits in church on Sunday but has trouble refraining from fighting his antagonistic schoolmates during the week.
Julien's family listen to the news of the Germans invading Holland and Belgium. Despite the heroic actions of the Dutch, the Germans are on their way to France.
Julien faces a serious decision. Is he willing to have Benjamin stay, even if it puts his own family in danger? The situation becomes all the more serious as Paris falls to the Nazis and the French government surrenders.
Unknown to the people in Tanieux, their lives are about to become more complicated. Julien sees two ragged teenagers get off the Tanieux train. The stationmaster is determined to send them back to where they came from. Food in Tanieux was rationed and there was no extra for refugees.
But Julien helps to see that they are able to stay in the village, hidden from the antagonistic mayor, stationmaster and his son, Henri.
When the Henri finds out the refugees are still in the village, he confronts Julien, whom he despises. Julien must face his own hatred of Henri. Can he love his enemies, as his faith in Jesus requires?
What will happen to the refugees? Will Henri tell his dad who will see them sent to the Jewish camp?

In the Munns' novel, the village of Tanieux represents Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a village of 3,000 people in southern France. Far from the occupied section of France, this village saved, over the course of the war, the lives of more than 3,000 Jews. They took people into their own homes and fed them, even as the French government was collaborating with the Nazis. Every home hid Jews, sometimes for years. No refugee was ever turned away or denounced.

Lydia Munn and her husband were missionaries in France and spent ten years in St. Etienne, near the small town that provides the setting for this novel. While in France, she read the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and wrote a book about it. It was never published. After Heather graduated from college with a BA in Literature, Lydia asked her to help rewrite the novel. The mother daughter team has tried to be as realistic as possible with the situation while keeping the novel suitable for teens.
Heather grew up in France and now lives in rural Illinois.

This is a great novel for teen readers. Issues of loyalty, prejudice, and forgiveness are dealt with in the story. A great discussion guide at makes this novel a fine choice for teen reading groups.

See more information about the book, the true story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, and how the mother-daughter duo came to write this book:

The authors have included a number of foreign words in this novel. You'll find a glossary at

Watch the video trailer.

Kregel Publications, 304 pages.

I received a copy of this book from Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Turning the Tide by Charles Stanley

Stanley believes our country is facing a storm. “We are experiencing a destructive, man-made tide that is deteriorating our country at a frightening pace.” (4) “If [Christians] don't act decisively and quickly, we will suffer loss and persecution as you and I have never experienced before.” (8) “There are crucial issues we absolutely must address if we hope to preserve the values and principles that have made our land great.” (9)
Stanley wants you to “consider this book a clarion call for you to speak up, stand up, and pray as never before.” (10) “The time for action is now.” (11)
Based on Daniel, Stanley gives a plan of action. What we are called to as believers, he says, is “to influence our communities and country by actively helping others and showing them God's love and the reason for our hope in Him.” (33)
“The United States is a Christian nation,” he says, but we have gone astray. (56)
“It is imperative that we change the course of this nation now,” Stanley says. “If we don't, we are headed for a terrible tragedy.” (57) “...[T]he United States is teetering on the edge of collapse.” (69)

Regarding money, Stanley says there are misconceptions, one of which is that we are to give unconditionally. There is a limit, he says. “There comes a point when giving to another person degenerates from ministry to dependency. … Therefore, we are not to give unconditionally; we are to do so with wisdom and spiritual discernment.” (74)
Another misconception is taxing the rich at a higher rate. Citing the parable of the talents, where faithful servants were given more, Stanley says of higher tax rates for the wealthy, “There is nothing biblical in this.” (75) (Hmmm. I guess he forgot Luke 12:48, to whom much is given, much is required...)
Stanley is hard, it seems to me, on the needy of our day. While the destitute should be welcome in our churches, he says, “...we should be firm with those who have simply become accustomed to a life of idleness and apathy.” (77) “With very few exceptions, everyone can learn the information and skills necessary for self-sustenance.” (78) (Ouch!)

Regarding the current state of our politicians: “...[I]t is our own fault. We are responsible for the character of our political leaders.” (119)
Stanley encourages individuals and churches to reach out and be the good influence this nation needs. He wants our leaders to be held accountable, but he also realizes that we must examine our own hearts.
He suggests that God may have very well allowed an ungodly leader to take power “to convict His people of their ungodly ways and lead them to repentance.” (168) “The Father is trying to get our attention, calling us to repentance and to a deeper relationship with Him.” (170) He explores what Christians can do to turn away from their pride and back to God.

Stanley uses much information from the history of Israel to describe how our nation and its leaders should behave. Stanley has assumed ours is a Christian nation (see page 56). He says our nation must align with biblical principles. (213)

He calls Christians to be faithful intercessors and gives suggestions on technique. He notes that we must bring “our own will and desires under submission” to the Father's will, even “when circumstances do not develop as we expect them to - taking longer than we thought they should or proceeding in an unexpected direction...” (239) Stanley says, “This is often the most difficult part for us... During these times it is crucial for us to remember that it isn't necessary for us to understand what the Father is doing – it is only crucial that we obey Him.” (239)
Praying for leaders, “'Change 'em or remove 'em, Lord,' is an effective prayer regarding any elected official who ignores God's commands.” (242)
He gives a twenty week period of prayer outline with a suggested emphasis for each week.

I am happy that Stanley does not make a candidate's stand on abortion the “litmus” test. He is more concerned with the candidate's overall character than the stand on that one issue. (224-5)

At the end of each chapter are a few questions to inspire the reader to take action.

Interestingly enough, Stanley acknowledges that “the Lord is never a mere bystander in any situation.” (18) He removes and established leaders (Dan. 2:20-21), Stanley reminds us. Voters may elect, Stanley says, “but ultimately, we must acknowledge that God is the One in control.” (18) He says that our confidence that “He is in control of the present and of our eternal future and that He always provides us with His very best.” (23) During elections, Stanley says, we must remember “Our hope is in Him, not in our candidate of choice.” (24) “The future of our nation remains safe in His capable hands. We may not always understand His reasons for allowing certain individuals to hold office, but we can be confident in His eternal purposes, nonetheless.” (25)
(OK, Stanley said, “The future of our nation remains safe in His capable hands.” (25) Yet he also says, our country is deteriorating at a “frightening pace.” (4) “...[W]e are headed for a terrible tragedy.” (57) “...[T]he United States is teetering on the edge of collapse.” (69) (So, which is it, safe in His hands or headed to terrible tragedy and collapse?)

Stanley says he agrees with Gamaliel's comments (Acts 5:38,39) and says, “No man can thwart the Lord's plans (see Job 42:2; Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 14:27).” (228) Yet, he relates the story of a prayer group in Germany, praying for the fall of the Berlin wall. He says, “Yet when believers cried out to God, just look how He was able to work through their prayers!” (223, italics added) Even though Stanley does not like the direction our nation is taking, he says, “I...have faith that His purposes continue to advance in our nation.” (274) (So, do I trust in God's plans that no one can thwart or do I believe God is able to work only when I pray?)

The last sentences in his book, “Godly citizenship can make a difference. All that is necessary is that you believe.” (277) (OK, so why all the chapters about intercession and godly action?)

As you can see, I am critical of Stanley's book. Stanley frequently falls off that tightrope of believing in God's sovereignty yet also wanting to believe in man's necessary intercession to enable God to work. Hence the often contradictory statements about the future of our country. More of my concerns about Stanley's (mis)understanding of God's sovereignty follows.
Stanley speaks of God's permissive will and His purposeful will. (144) In the permissive will God allows something to happen. His purposeful will cannot be changed or thwarted. (He uses as an example Israel in Babylonian captivity. Their going into captivity is an example of God's permissive will while their being in Babylon 70 years and then returning an example of God's purposeful will. Sorry: if it was part of God's purposeful will that Israel be there 70 years and then return, it also had to be part of God's purposeful will they get there in the first place!)
So which is it? Is the future in the hands of the voter and the Christian activist or in the hands of the sovereign God?

One caveat: Stanley suggests from Daniel's experience that God will reveal to us all we need to know, including the details. Stanley says we should trust that we have been given all we need to know to proceed. “Whenever the Lord gives us a command, we should do as He says immediately. We can trust that He will take full responsibility for our needs as we obey Him – including providing us with all pertinent information.” (31) (I cringe at the thought that I am to expect God will take “full responsibility” for actions I believe He is commanding me to do. Please do not look at Stanley's statements as permission to do anything you think God has commanded of you. Please, please seek the wise counsel of others before you do anything!)

Sometimes Stanley makes a blanket statement, such as, “...the Founding Fathers were believers – men who understood the life-changing influence the Savior could have upon each person.” (54) He says this, even though previously he admitted, “They were not all Christians, in fact, two of the most famous of our founders were Unitarians.” (51) Yet again he says, “There is absolutely no better way for a nation to function than with the Word of God as its guide and standard. … America's Founding Fathers understood this...” (266)

Also, when Stanley ran out of real concerns, he supposes some. “...I was suddenly struck by the awful thought that this could very easily happen in our own country... That is why I am so compelled to warn you and others about the restrictions the government could place upon the citizens of our nation.” (108, italics added) (Just remember that Stanley also said on page 25 that he believed our nation is safe in the hands of Jesus. Sometimes I wonder, does Stanley really believe we are safe in the hands of Jesus or is he really fearful of what could happen to this nation?)

Stanley says, “I've continually maintained throughout this book, you and I can change this country.” (242) (Hmmm, seems like a recent presidential candidate said something like that.)

Howard Books, 288 pages.

I received an egalley from Simon & Schuster for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? ed. by Norman C. Nevin

Essays by thirteen theologians and scientists.
Wayne Grudem, in his forward says this book “persuasively argues that Christians cannot accept modern evolutionary theory without also compromising essential teachings of the Bible.” At stake, says Grudem, is the truthfulness of the first three chapters of the Bible, the uniqueness of human beings, belief in the special creation of Adam and Eve in the image of God, the parallel of Adam's sin and Christ's sacrifice, the goodness of God's original creation, and the current situation as a result of the fall.
There has been an increased push in the scientific community to discredit anyone who does not believe in Darwinian evolution. Christian groups are bending to the pressure and are accepting Darwin's ideas. Some have tried to form a theological model that will fit Darwinism, succumbing to concept that Christians must embrace evolution or be labeled as opposed to science.
Not so, say the authors in this book. They hold the conviction that science and faith are not in opposition. The theologians are convinced of the authority of the Scriptures. The scientists are committed to rigorous science but are dissatisfied with the arbitrary conclusions and failure to follow the evidence.
Alistair Donald reviews the historical context of the relationship between evolution and the church. He then covers the theological and practical implications of accepting evolution.
Alistair McKitterick addresses the language of Genesis. It must be read in it historical and literary context. Assuming it is to be read from a Babylonian historical context will likely yield misreading the author's intention. “The language of Genesis is...historical, chronological, and intentional.”
Michael Reeves argues that “it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as first, a historical person who second, fathered the entire human race.” Paul's theology in Romans and 1 Corinthians requires it.
Greg Haslam argues that the Darwinian account of the origins of man, with its assertion of universal death and suffering, cannot be squared with the Bible. He notes the many references in the NT to the Genesis story and the difficulties they provide in any attempt to mythologize Genesis 1-3. “If God didn't say what he meant in Genesis, why would we trust him anywhere else?”
David Anderson argues that attempts to join Darwinian evolution with the Bible makes Gnostic errors (the tendency to replace historical facts with philosophical ideas). He concludes, “...theistic evolution , when it turns its attention to matters of redemption and the new creation, is a comprehensively Gnostic scheme.”
Andrew Sibley addresses the elevation of science to the place of religious scientism (elevating knowledge in science above knowledge in theology and philosophy). He answers the accusation that God is a deceiver (creating with apparent age). He notes the fallibility of science and how quickly scientific ideas can be overturned. “Scripture and science must be held in a proper relationship that respects the integrity of God's word... When there appears to be a contradiction, theistic scientists cannot simply allegorize Scripture at will, as new data are likely to force a reinterpretation of the science in the future.”
R. T. Kendall says believing God created the universe is a matter of faith. He says, “I suspect that the most common tool used by Satan today in his attack on historic Christianity is the theory of evolution.” Each generation of Christians is challenged with a stigma of belief. “The stigma of our generation,” he says, “is to believe God's account of creation without the empirical evidence.” “We must be willing to be unvindicated and laughed at...”
Steve Fuller investigates the biblical basis of modern science. We live in a culture where “'science' is reserved for the most authoritative form of knowledge in society...”  Close examination of scientific evidence adds more weight to the arguments for intelligent design than for Darwinian evolution.
Norman Nevin writes about the interpretation of scientific evidence, first, homologous features. “There is now evidence that often homologies are not based on common inherited genes or embryological pathways. The underlying mechanism(s) for homologies remains uncertain.” He also looks at the nature of the fossil record. He notes the lack of transitional fossils. He concludes, “One hundred and fifty years on since the publication of On the Origin of Species, the fossil record does not support the theory of evolution.”
Geoff Barnard investigates the genetic evidence of common ancestry of humans with apes. He concludes the wide variety of chromosomal variations dictate against a common ancestry.
Andy McIntosh explores thermodynamics and information. Thermodynamics “shows that new biological machinery cannot simply arise by mutations.”  Merely adding energy to existing machines will not result in new ones. Intelligence is needed. Information in living systems, McIntosh says, is where neo-Darwinists are at their weakest.
Geoff Barnard notes that recent books claim genomic evidence proves common descent. Some may find his investigation into this claim a bit technical (transposons, pseudogenes, Alu sequences). He concludes that Denis Alexander's arguments “are quite fallacious.”
John Walton says there is no place for natural selection in explanations for the origin of life. Random chemical combining just will not produce the necessary amino acids. (The chance is one in 10 to the 190 power.) “In fact, it has been shown that if the entire resources of the universe had been devoted to making proteins at the fastest possible rate since the putative Big Bang the chance of formation of even one functional protein would still be negligible.” He says, “All reputable scientists who have studied the problem,” concur "that life did not originate by random chemical reactions in a prebiotic soup."
Phil Hills and Norman Nevin write the concluding chapter. They offer a resounding “no” to the question of whether Christians should embrace evolution. They remind readers of the inconsistent theology of theistic evolutionists, the uncertainty of science, the limits of science, the pressure for scientists to go along with accepted concepts, and the often biased interpretation of scientific evidence. They note, “with so little evidence to support biology's evolutionary doctrine,” why would any Christian want to revise their theology to believe in it?
Why indeed.

This book is not for the casual reader but rather the Christian who is willing to grapple with their own belief and understanding of the origin of man. It is aimed at Christians who accept theistic evolution as a way to believe the Bible and in evolution. The authors have soundly argued that adopting theistic evolution leads to positions contrary to the Bible. Much of the writing is in specific answer to Denis Alexander's book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have a Choice?

Most of the arguments presented in this book are not technical. A review of current biology, say at the high school level, may help the reader understand the discussions on genetics, mRNA, etc. All of the articles are well footnoted.  Originally published in England, some American readers may not be familiar with the contributors.  A section at the beginning of the book identifies each one.

I received an egalley from P & R Publishing for the purpose of this review.

P & R Publishing, 192 pages.

Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond

Susannah was a plain girl of little means. Both of her parents had died and the banker was after the house because of an unpaid mortgage. Being a mail order bride seemed her only hope. Her pastor's brother homesteading in the Dakota territory wanted a wife. She boarded the train in Detroit and headed for her new a sod house.
When she met Jesse there was the awkwardness a marriage by mail would cause. But Jesse was a gentle and patient man, a Christian. He never forced Susannah to love him. He sweetly drew her to himself. But she has a secret. She is convinced that if Jesse really knew her he couldn't love her.

As she found herself falling in love with Jesse, she also experienced the harsh life in Dakota. She went a painful miscarriage, nearly dying from blood loss. And then the grasshoppers destroyed their crops.
Jesse makes the fateful decision to go into town and look for work. Susannah is left alone on the farm. How will she survive? What if Indians come? And then she finds she is pregnant. Will she manage to keep this baby?
When there has been no word from Jesse for months, other settlers tell her she should go back east. Is Jesse still alive? Can she make it through the winter without him?

Perhaps the change we see in Susannah is best described by her comments: “If it hadn't been for Jesse, no man would have looked at me twice. I don't mean just geography, bringing me out to empty Dakota. His love made me feel free to let other people know me. Because Jesse loves me, even though he knows me, I grew to believe in God's love for me.” (312)
I had to keep reminding myself this is Richmond's first novel. It was so good! Just the right amount of dialogue and description, humor and serious issues, struggle and overcoming, independence and relational comfort. Richmond has crafted a superb love story. It is also the rewarding story of a woman who struggles to find out who she really is.
The reading group guide at the end of the book would make this a good choice for discussion.

Catherine Richmond was focused on her career as an occupational therapist till a special song planted a story idea in her mind. That idea would ultimately become Spring for Susannah, her first novel. She  a founder and moderator of Nebraska Novelist critique group and lives in Nebraska with her husband.
More about Catherine:

I received a copy of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick

Helga Estby and her nineteen-year-old daughter Clara walked from Spokane, WA to New York City in 1896.  The Estby farm was behind in mortgage payments and foreclosure was in the future.  This walk would provide ten thousand dollars in prize money and save the farm.
The walk is only part of the book and was, for me, the least interesting part of the book.  The journey had events of excitement and then, apparently, long periods with nothing interesting happening.
Most of the book deals with Clara's life after she is forced out of the family.  One learns a great deal about the family structure of Norwegian immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  There is also much on family loyalty and what really defines a family. Clara's step-father made me so angry, but men of that era were of such a stubborn nature, I think.
One also learns much about the fur trade of that era.
I listened to the audio of this book, which was painful.  The articulation, especially of the Norwegian accent, is very precise and definite.  I almost felt the book could have been a CD shorter if the reading had been a bit faster.  I think I would have preferred print. 
I have read many other of Kirkpatrick's historical fiction and this one was not my favorite.
There was no afterward with the audio identifying which parts of the book were based on historical facts and which were totally fiction.  In the novel the personally written accounts were destroyed or stolen so I suspect much of this account is fiction, based on newspaper reports.

Waterbrook Press, 400 pages, Random House Audio, 13 hours.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Hummingbird Wings by Lauraine Snelling

Gillian is a high power executive in New York City.  She loves her work, the stress, the challenge.
Her younger sister calls from California.  Their mother insists she is dying.  Could Gillian travel to California to be with her mother?
It's a bad time for Gillian.  She has a big proposal due.  But she'll catch a red eye and take a long weekend away from her job.  She hasn't been to see her mother in...has it been five years?
When Gillian arrives in California she faces an antagonistic sister and a depressed mother.  She also meets the handsome fellow down the street.  On the morning TV news she is shocked to find out that the company she works for has been taken over by another.  A call to her boss reveals that all the executives have been let go.  He suggests she take a month and then give him a call.  Maybe he'll have a job for her.
Suddenly Gillian finds out that she is no longer in control of her life.  How will she deal with her defeated mother?  How can she get through to her snippy sister?  And where is God in all of this?

Snelling has written another great novel.  There is a bit of humor, a bit of struggling with God, a bit of romance, a bit of family dynamics, a bit of gardening and a bit of wondering what life will bring.  This is an all around pleasing novel and with the reading group guide in the back, a good choice for groups reading romance novels.

FaithWords, 340 pages.

Monday, June 13, 2011

God and Stephen Hawking by John C. Lennox

Lennox has written this short book (96 pages) to help readers “understand some of the most important issues that lie at the heart of the contemporary debate about God and science.” (9) He avoids technicality and concentrates on the logic of the arguments.
Science has provided us with many technological advances so science has immense authority in our world. Many turn to science for answers to the big questions about God and our existence. Lennox says the real question is: “Does science point towards God, away from God, or is it neutral on the issue?” (12)
A powerful scientific voice is Stephen Hawking. Hawking says physics leaves no room for God. (13) “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing...” (16)
Lennox takes issue, not with Hawking's science, but with what he deduces from it. Lennox notes that many scientists realize that science cannot answer every kind of question. The issue of morality is one of them.
Lennox proceeds to critique Hawking's (and Mlodivow's) The Grand Design. Hawking says philosophy is dead and then engages in it. Hawking says the universe will create itself out of “nothing” because there is a law of gravity. Lennox counters that Hawking assuming the existence of the law of gravity (and necessarily gravity itself) means there is not “nothing.” (30)
Lennox also notes the violation of the rules of logic by Hawking. Saying “the universe can and will create itself from nothing” is a self-contradictory assertion. (30) (Saying the universe will create itself is assuming the universe exists already so it can create itself!)
With similar intensity Lennox goes on to point out additional errors made by Hawking, including his serious misunderstanding regarding the nature and capacity of scientific laws. “...[O]n their own, the theories and laws cannot even cause anything, let alone create it.” (40)
Lennox argues that the choice, God or science, is a false one. God does not compete with the laws of physics but is the ground for a place where such laws exist.
Lennox likens solving the mystery of the origin of the universe to solving a murder mystery. Even Poirot cannot rerun the murder in order to solve it. One can deduce from clues but one cannot rerun the event. Because there cannot be experimental proof regarding the universe's origin, an explanation like M-theory is speculative. It does not carry the same authority as laws that can be experimentally proven (such as Newton's or Kepler's).
Lennox lastly takes on the possibility of miracles, something Hawking says are impossible because of the laws of nature. Lennox suggests, “the laws of nature predict what is bound to happen if God does not intervene.” (87) “...Christians do not believe the universe is a closed system of cause and effect. They believe it is open to the causal activity of its Creator God.” (88)
Hawking would say nature is absolutely uniform: the laws of nature know no exceptions. This is unjustified, Lennox argues. The only way Hawking could know nature is absolutely uniform would be to have access to every event in the universe at all times and places. (89)
Lennox also notes it is odd that Hawking rejects miracles yet believes in the multiverse, the whole point of which is to have enough universes so that anything can happen. (92)
Lennox says, “The more I understand science the more I believe in God, because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication, and integrity of his creation.” (73)

Lennox is a mathematician, not a scientist. But he does understand science and the principles of good science. He argues not from scientific proof but from the logic (or lack of it) of the arguments by Hawking within the framework of science.
As a person with a science background (B. S. Physics) who has taught logic to high school students, I found Lennox's book very readable. His understanding of the laws of nature, what they can prove and what they cannot, is right on. If one cannot create an experiment to prove the theory, one's thoughts will only be speculation, or theory. Such is the case for scientists regarding past events such as the universe's origin.
And Hawking saying there cannot be miracles is like trying to prove there is no gold buried in Texas. Digging up every square inch of land in Texas might be a daunting task but not as impossible as being every place at every time in all of the universe to make sure there was no miracle taking place.
This is a great book for those who have read The Grand Design and think Hawking and others have proven there is no God, no Creator of the universe. Lennox's little book shows Hawking has failed scientifically and logically to prove that point.

John C. Lennox is Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at the University of Oxford, and author of the bestselling God's Undertaker. He lectures on faith and science at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He has lectured around the world, including in the United States for Ravi Zacharias; in Austria; and in the former Soviet Union. For more about John C. Lennox, please visit

This book was published in the UK in 2010 and being released in the U.S. in summer 2011.

I received a copy of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.