Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Christian Atheist, by Craig Groeschel

It doesn't take much of a stretch to say that many, if not most, American Christians live like Christian atheists.  Sure, we have Christian values (whatever that means in your particular Christian circle), we attend church, maybe even several days a week, maybe even in leadership, we listen to Christian music, we have Christian friends.  But how much of that fully acknowledges God's role in our lives?  This question has troubled me for a long time.  If I have a non-existent devotional life, if I don't consult or acknowledge God in my daily decisions, and if I otherwise live without daily interaction with him, I guess I'm counted among the Christian atheists. 

When I saw the title of Craig Groeschel's book, I knew I had to take a look.  Groeschel is founder and pastor of LifeChurch.tv, one of those church names that makes me groan on a number of levels.  Even though the church follows that multi-campus, marketing driven, seeker-friendly, ultra-hip model that makes me sick, I have to give him credit for reaching lots of people.  As the domain name in the church name suggests, they are spread over several locations in several states, linked together by technological means. 

Besides attending at one of LiveChurch.tv's real campuses, you can apparently attend as an avatar in the virtual worship center.
I have never heard Groeschel preach, but I am thinking that The Christian Atheist must reflect his teaching/preaching style.  One the plus side, he uses lots of personal stories, both from his own life and from people in his church and who he has met.  He's not one to get stories from "Sermon Illustrations Weekly"; he brings real lives of real people into his teaching.  Groeschel covers many of the ways I live as a Christian atheist: not praying, doubting his total love for me, questioning his sovereignty, trusting in my efforts and money for my needs, not sharing my faith.  In much of the content, he addresses the typical American pagan, who thinks he's a Christian but who has never made a decision to follow Christ, but much applies to people like me, who have been Christ followers, but who go through the motions of faith and church, and don't live in communication and relationship with God on a daily basis.

Ultimately I was disappointed in the book.  It showed Groeschel's engaging style, but lacked much substance.  The target audience would be the seeker, without a background in Christian teaching and theology, which probably makes sense.  I get the impression that's who he preaches to every week.  For someone who has been immersed in church life and Christian teaching, there's nothing new here, and what is here is pretty superficial.  That's not to say it's completely without value, but I will say the value is quite limited.  I guess it will take a lot more than Groeschel's book to break me out of my Christian atheism.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Confession, by John Grisham

In The Confession, Grisham has brought together his straight-forward, page-turning suspenseful style, a la The Firm with the anti-death penalty, justice system reforming crusade of The Innocent Man.  The stalwart pro-death penalty advocate may not enjoy this book, but if you have any sympathy at all for the Innocence Project, which works to "free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment," and for people who are wrongly convicted of crimes, you will appreciate the tone and message of The Confession.

The Confession is the page-turner Grisham fans have come to expect from him.  The story alone doesn't rank as one of Grisham's best, but that's like saying one of Beethoven's symphonies isn't one of his best.  The Confession is still a great story.  The premise is rather simple: Travis Boyette, a convicted rapist and all around nasty guy, reads that a Donte Drumm is about to be executed for the murder of a cheerleader from Drumm's school.  Boyette remembers her well: he stalked her, kidnapped her, raped her, and murdered her, and got away with it.  His convictions were for other crimes.  Boyette tells his story to an earnest minister, who make it his mission to stop Drumm's execution.

As is Grisham's style, the plot is straightforward, seemingly predictable, but with just enough surprises to keep the reader interested.  The case against Drumm seems ludicrously flimsy, but I'm sure Grisham was inspired by actual cases, in which an outside observer would be dumbstruck to learn that someone was convicted on such flimsy evidence.  With the omniscient author's perspective, Grisham builds a firm case for the wrongfulness of Drumm's conviction.  On those grounds, The Confession becomes an entertaining, highly readable, anti-death-penalty argument.

Maybe I'm just more aware, having read this book, but it seems like there are more and more examples of people wrongfully convicted of crimes.  One day when I was almost finished with the book, the Star-Telegram ran a front-page article about a man who has already been executed, but whose guilt has been called into question because a hair found at the scene of the crime--the sole piece of physical evidence tying him to the crime--turned out not to be his.  On the same day, one of the S-T editors wrote an editorial stating that Texas could actually save money by abolishing the death penalty, because the expense of the automatic appeals process far exceeds the expense of housing a prisoner for life.  Arguments for the deterrent quality of the death penalty fade in the face of evidence that it is, even in only in a small minority of cases, wrongfully implemented.  From the perspective of justice, as well as economics, there's a strong argument that it simply doesn't make sense to have a death penalty.

Even with the strong-handed argument overshadowing the story, The Confession delivers.  Grisham fans will enjoy it; non fans will probably enjoy it, too.  For a "message" novel, it's definitely worth a read.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Cure, by Geeta Anand

A while back, I commented on John Crowley's memoir, Chasing Miracles, in which Crowley recounts some of his experiences seeking a cure for his kids, two of whom have Pompe syndrome.  His efforts have been truly heroic and groundbreaking, literally saving the lives of his children and improving their health by spearheading the development of drugs to treat Pompe.  Their story first came to the attention of the public through a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal by Geeta Anand. 

The Crowleys
The lengthy subtitle of Anand's book, How a Father Raised $100 Million--and Bucked the Medical Establishment--in a Quest to Save His Children, tells most of the story in a nutshell, but doesn't come close to communicating the challeges Crowley, his family, and business associates challenged along the way.  Chasing Miracles was heart-breaking as the father tells his story, but The Cure will break your heart, too.  Much of it does read like something a WSJ business journalist would write, recounting the business deals and corporate life in meticulous detail, but Anand captures Crowley's emotion and passion as well as she describes the business angle.  Besides learning about Pompe disease, the reader will gain insight into the biotech industry and Wall Street dealings.

The Cure is well-written and tells an amazing, inspring story.  Anand chronicles the events meticulously and compellingly.  But I think she fell prey to the common "stretch this article into a book" syndrome.  I appreciated her commitment to detail and skillful crafting of the story, but I couldn't help thinking that I would have been satisfied by the articles themselves.  All criticism aside (I realize this criticism only reflects my own shallowness and laziness anyway!), the bottom line is an inspiring story that will make you want to meet this terrific family and join their efforts to treat rare, formerly untreatable diseases.