Wednesday, July 20, 2011

1611 Bestseller

As I was reminded by an article in Baylor Magazine, this year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible.  It's hard to overestimate the impact that the King James Bible had and continues to have on the English language, Western culture, and the church.  (Plus, as my Uncle David discovered, some distant relative of ours was on the translation committee!  But I don't get a discount on Bibles.)

I have also been reminded multiple times recently that I have not been spending time in the word.  If you never saw this post, which shows a tribe getting the Bible in their language for the first time, check it out.  I can only imagine the thrill of hearing God's word for the first time in a way I could understand, whether I had only heard it in Latin or Greek, or maybe never in a language I could understand.  What a privilege to have such easy access to the Bible in many forms!

So to celebrate the quadricentennial and to try to revive my own love of God's word, I bought myself a KJV Bible.  I had one at one time, but I think I gave it away years ago.  I considered buying a cool edition that reproduces the original printing, but I figured I'd get tired of the antiquated letters, like using a v instead of u,or I instead of J. I just got a modern printing instead.

So my plan is to read the KJV all the way through over the next several months.  I'm using a reading plan I've used before (this one); I like it because it's a one year plan but it's undated, so you can start whenever and wherever you like. Maybe I'll post some gleanings from my reading from time to time.  Or not.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, by Mark Batterson

First of all, let me say that I was pleased that Primal is not the book I thought it was going to be.  It is not an attempt to find some kind of pure expression of Christian worship, faith, and practice, seeking to replicate the first century church today.  Those sorts of efforts tend toward cultural ignorance and folly.  Batterson does long for a sort of early church purity; the book was at least in part inspired by a visit to the catacombs  of a church in Rome.  Batterson wants to be sure modern Christians are able to see beneath the "bells and steeples . . . creeds and canons . . . pews and pulpits, hymnals and organs, committees and liturgies" that have come to be a part of the Christian experience, to remind us of what is most basic about Christianity.

It's pretty simple.  The church is "not great at the Great Commandment.  In too many instances, we're not even good at it."  He sets out his recovery plan with four big ideas:
The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
And the strength of Christianity is primal energy.
Taking each of these things, he offers a couple of chapters each to flesh out the ideas.

I can't be 100% sure, but I have little doubt that this book started as a sermon series at his church.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the end result feels a little cobbled together.  Much of the exposition feels like filler; he came up with the basic ideas, then had to stretch them out for Sunday sermons.  And his preacher's habit of pulling in random scientific factoids to illustrate his points got a little annoying.

However, one important measure of a book like this is, Did he accomplish what he set out to do?  I would say the answer is yes.  By the time I got to the end, my level of inspiration had moved up a few notches.  I didn't read all of the discussion questions at the end, but they definitely provide good fodder for reflection.  Ultimately Batterson wants to see a new reformation.  Whereas Luther's Reformation was a reformation of creeds, marked by the rallying cry Sola fide (faith alone), the new Reformation should be marked by deeds of compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy, with the rallying cry Amo Dei (love God).

Thanks to WaterbrookMultnomah for providing this free copy for review!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

OK, there's just no way I can sufficiently treat one of the twentieth century's greatest (and longest!) novels in the usual space of a Reading Glutton review.  So I'll just give some highlights and personal thoughts.  But you wouldn't expect anything more of a shallow book consumer like me, would you?

I first read Atlas Shrugged in 1987, just after I graduated from high school.  (Thanks, Chelli, for turning me on to Rand!)  I still have that paperback, and have read it a couple of times since then, but not in years.  With the movie coming out (still haven't seen it) I thought I'd revisit it.  I have to admit, I did it the lazy way: I got the CDs from the library.  (In case you're wondering, it's 45 CDs, 50-something hours, I think.)

I had forgotten what a great read this is.  Yes, it's long--my edition, a trade paperback, is 1084 pages of teeny tiny print--but Rand does not write fluff.  Her descriptions are memorable, the dialogue is tight, and the story line moves briskly.  One criticism often made is that the speeches are too long.  She does have a few long expository passages, where the characters flesh out their ideas, but they're all naturally part of the story and do not detract.  The one exception is John Galt's major radio speech late in the book.  It goes on for 57 pages in my edition.  On CD it's 3 hours.  In the book, they refer to it as a 2 hour speech.  In any case it's long, and one certainly has to suspend disbelief to think the whole nation would listen to the entire speech, much less take it all to heart.  Maybe I'm too jaded by our media saturation; in the days of radio, I guess it's possible.  I could just see a modern audience tuning out within 5 minutes to see what's on ESPN.

As great a novelist as Rand was, she is more remembered for her ideas.  She unabashedly promoted the virtue of selfishness, especially from the perspective of business.  I am a Christian, and I know that we are to follow Christ's example of selflessness, but I do not believe Rand's conception of selfishness conflicts with the Christian life.  Business is all about serving the needs of others; a businessman who does not do so finds himself out of business.  Adam Smith captured this idea in his line: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

One of Rand's heroes, Hank Rearden, made a similar point at a speech when he was put on trial for violating the restrictions placed on industry by the government.
I work for nothing but my own profit--which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it.  I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage--and I am proud of every penny I own.  I made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with. . . . I refuse to apologize for my ability--I refuse to apologize for my success--I refuse to apologize for my money. . . . I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow men than you can ever hope to accomplish--but I will not say it, because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist.
The villains in Atlas Shrugged (not to mention the current administration) never seem to get the point that by making money, a good businessman does vastly greater good for society and his fellow man than he ever can by giving money away.

Speaking of the current administration, Wesley Mouch's description of the John Galt Plan (which had nothing to do with Galt's ideas, he simply attempted to conscript Galt's name into government service) sounds suspiciously like something Barack Obama would say.  As you read this, please picture BO and his Teleprompter:
The John Galt Plan will reconcile all conflicts.  It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor.  It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits.  It will lower prices and raise wages.  It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations.  It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the generosity of a planned economy.
This is the kind of doublespeak I have come to expect from Washington.  Sometimes it seems Washington is taking its cues from Atlas Shrugged.  Rand talks about the "aristocracy of pull," which rewards the well-connected at the cost of successful enterprises.  What other explanation is there behind the bank bailouts?  Washington rewarded failure by bailing out the failed banks, costing the economy and the country, and penalizing successful banks.  I am in awe of the idiocy of our federal government's economic policies, but they would not have surprised Rand at all.

In many ways, Rand was an offensive figure, and she was certainly no friend of the Christian faith.  But I long to have someone like her making sense of the world today.  If you have never read Atlas Shrugged, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, by Rick Perry

Will he run for president?  Sure looks like it.  Can he win?  I don't know.  Many people outside of Texas will see him as Bush 2 (or Bush 3, depending on how you view Bush 2's presidency as a sequel to Bush 1's).  Personally, I'd rather see the other Texan presidential hopeful, Ron Paul, in the White House.

In spite of people's perception, Perry's book Fed Up demonstrates Perry's differences with Bush.  Granted, they're not black and white, but Bush is more Washington than Austin.  Perry differs with Bush on several points where Bush tends toward federal government solutions.  His book is a clarion call to Americans to pay close attention to that crucial tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so often ignored or forgotten by Washington:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Perry's not just a states' rights zealot; he argues that a great strength of this amendment is the ability for states to serve as laboratories of public policy.  Why not try things 50 different ways?  The best policies will be noticed by the other states and imitated and adapted for their particular state's needs, a much more efficient means of shaping policy.  Witness the huge bureaucracies that have been created in response to Obamacare, when we have no idea how health care will look on a nation-wide basis?

Whether or not he decides to run, and whether he not he can win the nomination, much less the presidency, I hope Perry's message of less regulation, lower taxes, and less control over our lives and communities by the federal government will continue to find a hearing in the halls of power.  But I'm not holding my breath.