Monday, December 5, 2016

God's Answer to the Growing Crisis, by Mike Bickle

Mike Bickle believes that Psalm 2 points to the growing crisis for the church.  But the man of prayer and faith that he is, he points Christians to a powerful response.  God's Answer to the Growing Crisis: A Bold Call to Action in the End Times uses Psalm 2 as a springboard.  The first two verses of Psalm 2 read: "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kinds of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed."

Taking recent reports of persecution against Christians around the world, Bickle sees this escalating so much that all nations join in the persecution, banding together against the Lord and his anointed.  "A rage against Jesus and His Word will begin with the public ridicule of people who value God's Word.  It will grow to include hate-crime legislation that results in economic penalties for these believers . . . and finally will culminate with violent persecution against them that includes prison and martyrdom."

The good news amid growing persecution is that "things will get progressively worse and better at the same time.  Opposition to and hatred for Jesus will continually increase. . . . As the darkness grows, so will the light; we as the church must know what the Holy Spirit is saying and how He is guiding us during these times."  As we have seen throughout history, persecution fuels the spread of the gospel; Bickle says this will continue to be the case in future persecution.

The solution is that "the Psalm 2 crisis requires a Joel 2 response ["Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill . . . ], resulting in an Acts 2 outpouring of the Spirit."  Based on his study of the scripture, as well as on some visions he had, Bickle believes "the Lord is warning us of great trouble coming to America.  It will be a time of unrest that most people never thought possible in our land.  And the Lord is sounding this alarm to let the church in particular know that turmoil is coming.  Yes, revival will come, but so will trouble."

I never know how to take apocalyptic warnings.  I respect Bickle's ministry and have benefited from his teaching and writing.  When it comes to end times talk, I choose to focus on his solutions, which apply to every time, end times or not.  Like in every period, God is calling the church to a deeper commitment to prayer, to attention to purity and rejection of immoral cultural trappings, and rejoicing no matter what the circumstances "because the altogether worthy One is our true refuge."  If I'm wrong to dismiss or ignore Bickle's warning, I feel like if I heed his call to prayer and turning to God, I'll be in good shape no matter what kinds of persecution comes my way.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about theology

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Wildlife Spectacles, by Vladimir Dinets

Vladimir Dinets is a professional animal watcher.  If you're like me, you don't get to see many animals, except your pets, zoo animals, and the occasional squirrel or raccoon in your neighborhood.  Lucky for us, Dinets has spent his lifetime observing wildlife.  In Wildlife Spectacles: Mass Migrations, Mating Rituals, and Other Fascinating Animal Behaviors, Dinets describes a wide variety of animals and their habits.  As a bonus, he tells us where to go to see for ourselves!

A couple of themes show up throughout Wildlife Spectacles.  First, the danger man poses to wildlife and the subsequent impact on animal habitats and populations.  It's a reality that we use lots of land for living and farming.  Without moaning about overpopulation or misanthropy, Dinets simply describes the ways that migration patterns, mating habits and species survival has been impacted.

A more interesting and compelling theme is the interaction between species.  For instance, in North America the passenger pigeon is extinct.  That alone is tragic, but: "Since the passenger pigeon's extinction, tree species they depended on the bird for spreading their seeds, particularly the white oak, have gone into decline."  Who would have predicted this relationship?  Not me.  Similarly, salmon has a huge impact on the forest through which their rivers run.  "Salmon runs transport a significant amount of nutrients from the ocean to the coastal forests." The magnificent forests of the northwest are made possible by salmon sacrificing their lives. 

You might not like bats much, but many of our crops depend on them to eat invasive insects.  A decline in bat populations can impact our food supply.  "Fungus causes a disease called white-noise syndrome, which dan wipe out entire colonies of bats in just one winter. Within a few years it killed eighty percent of bats in the Northeast (causing billions of dollars of damage to agriculture)..."

Dinets emphasizes the interconnectedness of life, as well as the mystery of it.  We think scientists know everything, but much of the natural world is still a mystery.  Dinets talks about the mystery of insect migration.  Sometimes the patterns are very clear, but in some cases, we don't know where they go when they migrate.  So much is unknown.

Wildlife Spectacles is enjoyable on many levels.  Just flip through it and enjoy the gorgeous photography.  Read more closely and be astounded by the miracles of wildlife.  Take it with you on your next road trip to observe the wonderful world of animals first-hand.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about the natural world

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Cure, by Athol Dickson

What if one pill could cure alcoholism?  Should the cure be sold, or given freely?  Athol Dickson's thoughtful novel The Cure asks just that question.  When former missionary and current drunk Riley Keep hears rumors of homeless people in his hometown being cured of alcoholism, he treks back from his self-imposed exile to see it for himself.  Not only is he cured, but he soon finds himself in possession of a sample of the cure and, more importantly, the formula to produce it.

When he secretly tries to get it produced and marketed, he causes nothing but trouble for his town, his ex-wife, and just about anyone else involved.  This is one of those stories where I kept thinking, "You are so stupid." But to Dickson's credit, by the end of The Cure, the seemingly unreasonable actions of Riley and others make a lot more sense.  So if you're half-way through, and think, "I can't stand any more of these people's dumb choices," stick with it.

Dickson seems to have a good grasp of alcoholism and the grip it can have on people.  I couldn't help but ask some of the same questions Riley asks himself.  What do you do with such a cure?  Can you justify profiting from it?  Should I give it away?  I wish Dickson would have developed this question more realistically.  There are commercially available drugs that are both sold and given away.  I don't think it would be that hard to propose a means by which a drug to cure alcoholism could be both commercially viable and could be made available to poor alcoholics.  Develop a foundation, distribute through Medicaid, something. . . .

In spite of my frustration with some of the development, I enjoyed the book overall, and, even if a pill to cure alcoholism is only a figment of fiction (for now), The Cure still has a great message for alcoholics.  Check it out.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book you own but have never read

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Viral, by Leonard Sweet

Leonard Sweet may not have been born a digital native, but he has fully embraced the digital life.  In Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival, Sweet details the differences between the Gutenbergers and the Googlers.  The differences are, in part, generational, but as Sweet himself demonstrates, reach across generational lines.  Sweet doesn't go so far as to say the printed word and the long-form written work are dead, but he calls on the church to embrace Googlers: "the primary challenge of the church will be to incarnate the gospel in a Google world."

Googlers are characterized by TGIF culture: Twitter, Google, iPhones, and Facebook.  Those who resist should just stop resisting.  Sweet writes, "It is time for all of us to move into the TGIF world, and to move the TGIF world toward the gospel.  Social networking has created a culture that breeds virility.  And this virility could easily become the virtual petri dishes of Christian revival."

The strength of Viral is Sweet's emphasizing the many positive qualities of TGIF culture and contrasting it with Gutenberger culture.  Tools like Twitter and Facebook have been criticized for trivializing or diminishing personal relationships, but Sweet points out ways they can be used for discipleship and evangelism.

While the sociological descriptions are spot-on, and surprisingly relevant even now, four years after the original publication, the leap from "this is culture" to "this is revival" seems too bold.  "The TGIF world could be the impetus for an infectious epidemic of monumental proportions."  No doubt he's right.  We have seen, obviously, major movements in the last few years that have been fueled by TGIF.  Now, whether a major move of God will be fueled by TGIF, time will certainly tell.  Sweet's case in Viral is more for the medium and the culture itself, not what it spawns.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about revival

Monday, November 28, 2016

Furious, by T. R. Ragan

Faith McMann is Furious.  Coming home from work with her two kids, she thought she was going to have an uneventful evening preparing for her son's birthday party.  The minor frustrations of the yard needing mowing and her sister's cooperation with the party preparations fade away when she enters her home to see her husband and terrified children bound by gun-toting strangers.  She witnesses their murdering her husband before they slash her throat and leave her for dead.  After a stay in the hospital, she awakes to find that her children are missing.

Determined to find her children and frustrated by what she perceives as a lackluster effort by the police, Faith and some new friends dig into the dark world of organized crime and human trafficking. Sensitive readers may find T.R. Ragan's story to be too realistic and gritty.  She does not sensationalize the subject matter, but it is tough material.

Faith is a heroine we can relate to.  She's not ex-special forces.  She has no combat training or super powers.  She is a mother and a wife and a school teacher who suffers an incomprehensible loss and fights back every way she knows how.  Tough moms will empathize with her unyielding instinct to protect her children.  Readers will cheer her on and will want to pick up book two of the Faith McMann trilogy to see how she continues the fight.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book written by an author with initials in their name

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Catology, by Adrian Searle and Oliver Ninnis

Adrian Searle and Oliver Ninnis have observed that "cats are every in the venal, self-serving, indolent and utterly ruthless domestic squatters that they're made out to be," but "that's why we love them."  In Catology: Inside the Twisted Mind of Our Feline Friends, Searle and Ninnis reveal the inner workings, secrets plotting, and ulterior motives of cat personalities.  Their simple black and white illustrations, accompanied by the cats' narratives reveal what we have always known.  For example, of course our cats plot to eat us while we sleep.  And in case we survive, they will annoy you by sitting your face, keyboard, or wherever is least comfortable and convenient for you.

The illustrations and cat quotes are an uneven batch, ranging from very funny to ho-hum.  Cat lovers will enjoy Catology, but the real audience is cat owners who are cat haters, or maybe lovers of cat owners who can't understand why the cat lovers love cats.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Platonic Tradition, by Peter Kreeft

Philosopher A.N. Whitehead famously said that the European philosphical traditino is a "series of footnotes to Plato."  Hyperbole, perhaps, but there is no doubt that Platonic thought is fundamental to philosophy.  Boston College professor Peter Kreeft discusses the content and repurcussions of Platonism in a series of lectures, The Platonic Tradition.

Kreeft is a great popularizer of complex ideas.  The Platonic Tradition is a bit heavier than some of his other works, such as his dialogues, but he definitely makes philosophy accessible to the non-philolospher.

As a Christian, Kreeft emphasizes the impact of Platontism on Christian philosophical and theological traditions more so than, I would suppose, a secular philosopher might.  But the strongest part of these lectures is Kreeft's descriptions of Platonism in Augustine, Aquinas, and other Christian thinkers.  On a different note, he attrubutes the more recent philosophical movements like nihilism and existentialism to the abandonment of Platonism.

Kreeft is dealing with bid ideas in The Platonic Tradition.  But he makes them approachable by providing context and multiple layers of explanation and illustration.  Highly recommended.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book about philosophy