Friday, December 30, 2011

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

This is a fat book. So I initially expected it to be a memoir in need of a lot of pruning. Such is not the case. I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. It's a spiritual memoir in the style of Girl Meets God-- a story of a bookish person struggling with the big questions of life and ultimately coming to believe that Christ has the answers.

There are many things to like about this volume, from its structure around the Oxford academic year to the way Weber weaves quotations from various classics throughout her narrative. Most striking and helpful to me was her description of life as a new Christian in the midst of academia. Many of her friends thought she was crazy. Some even told her she had lost all academic credibility. Not only did she struggle with friends feeling betrayed, she also struggled to fit into “churchianity”. Things like finding the correct page for the Bible reading and singing in public seemed like almost insurmountable difficulties. She felt she could never catch up to those who had been steeped in the Bible and Christianity from youth. As one of the latter, I found the chapter “Church Going” a very helpful description of how a new Christian might feel coming to church for the first time.

One thing that surprised me about Weber's memoir was how little she mentions C.S. Lewis. Given that the book is set in Oxford, that was something I expected. But her road to faith in Christ was guided primarily through reading the Bible (all of it!) and conversations with Christians.

Surprised by Oxford is funny, articulate and thought-provoking. It's a title I'd read again, and will be recommending to others.


-Kara

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christians and Literature

Kara and I have answered a questionnaire as a guest post at the blog All Things Expounded. Go over there and take a look at our answers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A self-unfulfilling prophecy

The Next 100 Years by George Friedman

My friend Luke Isham recommended this book to me, knowing that I would like it, which I did.

The Next 100 Years predicts what the 21st century will be like. It really only goes up to 2090, and so really ought to be called The Next 80 Years, but the further one prognosticates, the less likely one is to hit the target.

As he acknowledges in the epilogue, George Friedman makes virtually no mention of climate change. Instead, he focuses more on geopolitics. Yet the does posit a scenario in which solar energy is collected by satellite cells, and beamed down to the earth's surface via microwaves.

In fact, much of the material in this book is bordering on science fiction. But it is in the context of telling the story of World War III. It makes for a great story, and I suspect it will be made into a movie. Friedman suggests that that the US will set up "Battle Stars": satellite systems that can fire missiles are the surface of the earth. But then the Japanese will launch a surprise attack from the far side of the moon, and knock out all the Battle Stars. This will occur at 5pm, November 24, 2050. The US will then go to war against a Turkish-Japanese coalition.

Of course, the secret's out now. This book is, in fact, a self-unfulfilling prophecy. The very fact that the order of battle has been written down will take away its surprise value.

But obviously the details are unimportant. Friedman is clearly concentrating on the big picture. And that is a century dominated by the USA. Russia and China, he says, are not going to be major players. Instead, we will see a military resurgence of Turkey and Japan, with Poland and Mexico also featuring prominently. Sadly, Australia is not mentioned in this book at all.

Friedman's predictions are not mere speculation. This is a well-argued book, based on past history and current politics. Perhaps the most interesting argument is that US history follows 50-year cycles, beginning with a successful presidency and ending with an unsuccessful one. The first cycle started with George Washington, the second with Andrew Jackson, the third with Rutherford Hayes and the fourth with Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are currently halfway through a fifth cycle, which began with Ronald Reagan. Thus, argues Friedman, the presidential election in either 2028 or 2032 will be the significant one, probably focusing on issues of immigration, except that now the US will be trying to attract immigrants to overcome its labour shortfall.

My question in reading this book concerns the place of Christianity in all this. Friedman argues that there will be a battle regarding the status of the family, including the role of women and sexual ethics. Friedman says it is a battle the conservatives will lose. He argues that it will not make economic sense to have large families, and as a result there will be a significant population decline: "Women are having fewer children because supporting a lot of children in industrial, urban society is economic suicide" (p. 59). He notes that religious traditionalists argue for, and often have, large families, but he doesn't seem to think this will have much of a political or sociological impact. But if traditionalists are the only ones having lots of kids, that will presumably skew the population. Which is why some Christian conservatives advocate large families as a way of winning the world for Christ.

And maybe Friedman doesn't realise the power of the gospel. Perhaps this will be the century where the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Film review: Courageous

This afternoon I went to a preview screening of Courageous. It is an inspiring movie about fatherhood.

Courageous has a very limited screening in Australia, which isn't surprising given that that it is made by American evangelicals. It is the first film by Sherwood Pictures that I have seen, having missed Flywheel, Fireproof and Facing the Giants. (I note in passing this is the first one that doesn't start with the letter "F".) The American nature of the film was immediately evident to me (it is set in Albany, Georgia) and it is is a thoroughly Christian movie, though not cheesy. But I don't think Australian audiences will warm to this film. For one thing, it's portrayal of masculinity is so foreign. It is all about men opening up to each other, sharing their feelings and asking others to keep them accountable. That is not something Australian men tend to do.

Courageous is emotionally intense, even to the point of making me wonder if the film-makers are being emotionally manipulative. It is also rather long. But I love the way they carry out character development through spiritual transformation. The film is basically about men stepping up to be better fathers. The way they do this may seem foreign to some, yet the people were on the whole quite realistic.

I enjoyed this film, particularly since I am a recent father. The sentiment I will remember is that it's not good enough just to be a good enough Dad.

Rating: Four Stars

Monday, October 31, 2011

Books John read in 2011, Part 4

These are the books I read in August, September and October. I only managed to finish three books in October - the fewest books I've read in a month in a long time. But I've still read 90 books so far this year.
  1. The Barbed Coil by J. V. Jones
  2. BC is alive and well by Johnny Hart
  3. Kansas Tornado by Paul Ackerman and Bob Williams
  4. The Poet and the Lunatics by G. K. Chesterton
  5. The Second and Third Letters of the Alphabet Revisited by Johnny Hart
  6. The Waiting Place by Eileen Button
  7. The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros & Cons
  8. Phaic Tăn
  9. To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl
  10. Buried in Books by Julie Rugg
  11. The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey
  12. Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist by Kim Riddlebarger
  13. The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation by Philip Mauro
  14. Letter from a Christian Citizen by Douglas Wilson
  15. The Sanctuary by Raymond Khoury
  16. The Titian Committee by Iain Pears
  17. Doing Theology at the Grassroots by Patrick Kalilombe
  18. Will the world end in 2012? by Raymond Hundley

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Four weeks ago...

With thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Kara and John
are thrilled to announce the birth of
a baby daughter:
Galilee Lavender Dekker
Born on Saturday, 1st October at 5:28am (AEST)


Monday, August 08, 2011

A most un-useless place

The Waiting Place: Learning to Appreciate Life's Little Delays by Eileen Button

I received a review copy of this book on BookSneeze. The whole idea is that you need to write a review of the book before they will send you another. The problem is, no sooner had I received this book, than I realised there were two other books available that looked really interesting: Mark Horne's biography of Tolkien, and Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. So, ironically, I found myself rushing through a book on waiting.

This is not a book to be rushed, however. It is mostly personal memoir, through which the author celebrates all that is ordinary and mundane. And, of course, waiting. There is great wisdom here, something that Kara and I need to remember as we wait for the birth of our first child at the end of October.

Button writes very well, and communicates this wisdom through story rather than through teaching the Bible. There is, however, plenty in the Bible about waiting, like in the Book of Deuteronomy, when a curse comes on the wicked: " In the morning you shall say, 'If only it were evening!' and at evening you shall say, 'If only it were morning!' because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see." That's the ungodly view of time.

The title of the book comes from Dr. Seuss: "and grind on through miles across weirdish wild space / headed, I fear, toward a most useless place / The Waiting Place." But it's not useless. It has the capacity to shape us and bless us.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Books John read in 2011, Part 3

I spent most of June and July on holidays, travelling around the world. I didn't read as much as I usually do on holidays, but still managed eighteen books in June and July, making a total of 72 for the year.
  1. Impossible Things by Connie Willis
  2. The Diary of Anne Frank
  3. Luke, the Historian by J. A. Thompson
  4. The Amazing Story of Sodom by Walter J. Beasley
  5. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. Birth of the Chess Queen: A History by Marilyn Yalom
  7. The Anglican Evangelical Crisis
  8. Free at Last: The Second Madam and Eve Collection
  9. All aboard for the Gravy Train: The Third Madam & Eve Collection
  10. The Blood of the Moon: The Roots of the Middle East Crisis by George Grant
  11. A Place for Pilgrims by Phyllis Thompson
  12. Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic
  13. Casual Day Has Gone Too Far by Scott Adams
  14. In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple
  15. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  16. Gargoyles and Grotesques by Alex Woodcock
  17. The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion
  18. Stop that Ball! by Mike McClintock

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Liturgical drear

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister

I received a review copy of this on Booksneeze, but I found it so bland, I have taken quite a long time to get around to reviewing it.

The goal of the book is worthy enough: it covers all the main points in the liturgical year, and explains what they mean for Christians. Chittister argues that the liturgical year reprises "those moments that are the substance of the faith" (p. 13). But what is the Christian faith? Chittister seems somewhat liberal on this point: "It was on the cross that Jesus, the new Moses, led the people through a desert of darkened understanding from one insight into the will of God for them to another" (p. 17). Very poetic, and picking up on an important New testament theme of Jesus being the New Moses and salvation being a New Exodus, but that is not why Jesus died.

This is a thoroughly Roman Catholic book, and as such puts more store in Church tradition than in biblical practice. Chittister acknowledges that "not all the feast days that accrued to the church calendar in early centuries were well-grounded spiritually or well-authenticated spiritually" (p. 29), but that doesn't seem to faze her. Her Catholicism also comes out in sentiments such as "Good Friday is the saddest day in the liturgical year" (p. 147).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Books John read in 2011, Part 2

In April and May I finished 24 books, making it a total of 54 for the year to date.
  1. Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History by Carl Trueman

  2. Divine Excess: Mexican Ultra-Baroque by Ichiro Ono

  3. Boiling Point: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century by George Barna and Mark Hatch

  4. Open Heart by Frederick Buechner

  5. The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by James B. Jordan

  6. Portofino by Frank Schaeffer

  7. The Scottish National Covenant: A Tercentenary Sketch by George David Henderson

  8. Face to Face: Meditations on Friendship and Hospitality by Steve Wilkins

  9. On Ugliness by Umberto Eco

  10. Telling Queen Michal's Story: An Experiment in Comparative Interpretation

  11. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

  12. Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky

  13. The New Jerusalem by G. K. Chesterton

  14. The Challenge of Easter by N. T. Wright

  15. Saving Grandma by Frank Schaeffer

  16. Better Coin Collecting by Tom Mulligan

  17. Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 by Iain Murray

  18. Untune the Sky: Occasional, Stammering Verse by Douglas Wilson

  19. Reading the Lines: A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible by Pamela Tamarkin Reis

  20. Chessmen by Frank Greygoose

  21. Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James

  22. Theological Liberalism: A Handful of Pebbles by Peter Barnes

  23. Instructing a Child's Heart by Ted and Margy Tripp

  24. Modern Dispensationalism and the Law of God by O. T. Allis

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A good taste of Wright's writing

The Challenge of Easter by N. T. Wright

This book is excerpted from Wright's
The Challenge of Jesus. I read it during Easter week, and found it quite thought-provoking. It is, in fact, a very good introduction to Wright's writing.

Firstly, Wright's theme of the Kingdom of God comes out in this book. Wright sees New Testament Christianity as being "Jewish no-king-but God theology - with Jesus in the middle" (p. 12). He emphasises how the Jewish concept of the Kingdom of God concerned public events ("The end of Israel's exile, the overthrow of the pagan empire and the exaltation of Israel, and the return of YHWH to Zion to judge and save") and is thus much more than a new spiritual experience or sense of forgiveness.

Secondly, we see here Wright as an apologist for the physical resurrection of Jesus. He takes issue with Barbara Thiering (who says that Jesus was crucified, but did not die on the cross, p. 8) and Dominic Crossan (who does not believe that Jesus was buried, p. 22). This sort of defence is greatly expanded in Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Thirdly, Wright draws some fascinating parallels between the gospel accounts and the creation narratives in Genesis. He notes that Jesus was crucified on the sixth day of the week, which corresponds to God's completion of creation (p. 33) and he was rose on the first day of the week, which inaugurates a new creation. He then says, "Mary goes to the tomb while it's still dark and in the morning light she meets Jesus in the garden. She thinks he is the gardener, and in one important sense he indeed is" (p. 34.)

Fourthly, this book contains an example of all that for which Wright gets criticised - puzzling statements of dubious orthodoxy. He says on p. 59 that
Jesus did not know he was God, if by "know" we meant what the Enlightenment meant. Now, this statement is incomprehensible to me, but whatever Wright means by this, it would seem that a lot of people will be left confused as to what he is saying.

So perhaps this book has the best and worst of Wright. But like C. S. Lewis, I often find doctrinal books more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and this was a useful book to read in Eastertide.

John Dekker

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where my tastes lie at the moment

Or, what happens when a newly expectant mother goes to the library.

Some brief thoughts on the two books that stand out.

Better Birth was a helpful, balanced discussion of the varying philosophies of birth. The best chapter was filled with birth stories from mothers reflecting on what went well and what they would like to change about their experiences. The stories pretty much cover all the options of "place": hospital, birth centre, home, etc.

What to Expect has been the most useful on a daily basis. Any time I have a weird symptom, the book comes out and then I say, "ah, yes. this happens to other people, too." I especially like the week-by-week descriptions of what's happening with the baby.

I also recommend Sheila Kitzinger's books, but don't have anything to say about the specific titles above, other than that Rediscovering Birth is more of an anthropological study and I probably wouldn't leave it lying around the house 'cause of some of the photos.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My favourite commentary on Daniel

The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by James B. Jordan

I have been teaching on the Book of Daniel at PTC this semester, and this book has been very helpful in my preparation and study.

I first started reading Jordan about ten years ago. His biblical studies are always stimulating, often novel, sometimes rather weird. His Biblical Horizons newsletter is online, and I particularly recommend "Eldership and Maturity" (Parts 1 and 2) and "Concerning Colors, Architecture, and Sacraments."

In this commentary on Daniel, the most important thing is that Jordan takes the text seriously. This naturally leads him to take an early date for the book, and means that he has to part ways with the majority of scholars on various points of interpretation.

The most unusual contribution he makes to the study of the book is seeing King Herod at different points. This starts in the vision of the statue in chapter 2. The legs of the statue are iron, while the feet are iron and clay. The iron is traditionally taken to be Rome, which Jordan accepts, but whereas the iron + clay is usually interpreted as the declining Roman empire, Jordan takes it to be the mixture of Romans and Jews who sought to join Rome (p. 182), exemplified in Herod. That is, the iron and clay mixture is the one ruling Palestine in the first century, and so this explanation makes the best sense of Daniel 2:44, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed."

Jordan tends to see Herod everywhere in the Book of Daniel - the little horn in chapter 7, the horn in chapter 8 and the king in Daniel 11:36-45. I disagree with the first two identifications, but at this point in time I agree with Jordan's interpretation of Daniel 11.

The book contains some interesting appendices, one comparing Joseph and Daniel, and another (based on this article) suggesting that the words Jesus wrote in John 8:6 are the words mene, mene, tekel, parsin from Daniel 5:25.

The Handwriting on the Wall is my favourite commentary on the book of Daniel.

John Dekker.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Rather hokey ten years on

Boiling Point: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century by George Barna and Mark Hatch

"Prediction is very difficult," Niels Bohr allegedly said, "especially about the future." Well, this book aims to predict the future. It was written in 2000, and describes what the world will be like in 2010. And it's kind of hokey. The most obvious thing it fails to predict is 9/11, but it also misses the rise of social media and user-generated content.

The authors do mention terrorism, actually. They talk about electronic terrorism, chemical terrorism and "traditional, violent terrorism, especially at the hands of extreme religious groups" (p. 298). But it's still a far cry from predicting the way that radical Islam has shaped the last decade.

They have some interesting economic predictions: debt fiascos will be exposed in Russia and other "kleptocracies" (p. 277). Well, it hasn't really been Russia, but rather Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. The authors also get all premillennial with electronic money ("a number of respected Christian financial experts" contend that "the emergence of electronic money signals the start of the global system the antiChrist will use to force many into submission", p. 273) and one world government (p. 301) .

I was particularly interested in their predictions in regards to the church scene. They asserted that "at least three major denominations are likely to experience splits during the decade in reaction to the structural, theological and methodological stands of the denomination" (p. 254). Well, the Anglican Church in North America is an obvious fulfillment of this, but there aren't really any others, unless one counts Grace Presbyterian Church in New Zealand.

They also predict that "dozens of church association" will emerge, and that "it will not be uncommon for churches to trumpet their affiliation with such associations rather than their connection to old-line denominations." The rise of the church networks is an important feature of the current Christian scene. It is certainly the case that some congregations are affiliated with a church network and a denominations,
(Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, is affiliated with both Acts 29 and the Southern Baptist Convention) but I'm not sure how many churches are "trumpeting" their association with a church network at the expense of their denominational affiliations.

The book is an interesting read, and provides food for thought. The authors are to be congratulated for their insight in many areas, and their courage in having a go at predicting the future. It makes one wonder what the world will be like in 2020.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Books John read in 2011, Part 1

I have finished 30 books in January to March this year, including seven that were on my list of 20 books to read.

  1. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome

  2. Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman

  3. Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith

  4. Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

  5. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

  6. Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton

  7. Why Johnny Can't Preach by T. David Gordon

  8. Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner

  9. Poincare's Prize by George Szpiro

  10. La Vita Nuova by Dante

  11. Apocalyptic, Ancient and Modern by D. S. Russell

  1. The City Without a Church by Henry Drummond

  2. Our Descent from Israel by Hew B. Colquhoun

  3. The Gryphon by Nick Bantock

  4. Psmith, Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse

  5. Rebekah by Orson Scott Card

  6. Black & Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America by Douglas Wilson

  7. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

  8. Finding God Beyond Harvard by Kelly Monroe Kullberg

  9. Creation revealed in six days by P. J. Wiseman

  10. Golden Buttons: Christianity and Traditional Religion among the Tumbuka by Stephen Msiska

  1. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose

  2. The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock

  3. The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins

  4. Antique Maps by Douglas Charles Gohm

  5. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel by Peter Leithart

  6. And Thereby Hangs a Tale by Jeffrey Archer

  7. The Masters by C. P. Snow

  8. The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes

  9. Beyond Capricorn by Peter Trickett

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finding depth in the details

The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life by M. Craig Barnes

This is a hard book to review. I thought it was great while I was reading it, but now that I've finished it, it's hard to express what it was really all about.

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be explained is the title of this book. In what way is the Christian pastor a "minor poet". It means that the pastor seeks to find depth, complexity and meaning in conversations, in the details of everyday life, and, of course, in the text of Scripture.

The book picks up on the distinction between major poets (who "provide enduring expressions of the deep truths of life") and minor poets (who "have the more modest goal of inculcating that truth to particular people in particular places"). For the pastor, the major poets, says Barnes, are the writers of Scripture, and thus we have a robust metaphor for the pastoral ministry: communicating the deep truth of Scripture to a particular set of people.

But it goes further than this - being a minor poet involves being sensitive to the subtexts in Scripture, in the congregation and in himself. In other words, the pastor needs to be able to discern what's really going on.

The only time Barnes launches into an extended biblical exposition is in looking at John 4. Here he argues that a preacher can assist people identifying with the woman at the well: even if people have not been married five time, they may have "tried five weight-reduction plans, five moves, five jobs, five degree programs, or five churches - and the system isn't working for them either" (p. 84).

Barnes helpfully takes us through a day in his life to demonstrate how these ideas come out in the everyday life of the minister. My favourite quote from the book comes from this sort of interaction: "Mr Jefferson's life was not going to be reduced by a pathology report any more than it had been amplified by a prestigious job description" (p. 61).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Very useful for the student of logic

Our Descent from Israel Proved By Cumulative Evidence by Hew B. Colquhoun

(Available from New Boston Fine and Rare Books for $US 56.40)

British Israelism is the idea that the British people are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes and are therefore the People of God in a special sense. There was a time, it seems, when it was all the rage - that time being eighty years ago. The combination of the end of the British empire and the founding of the modern state of Israel after World War II has virtually put an end to the idea.

This book isn't of merely historical interest, however. It also functions as a textbook of logical fallacies. I mention a few below, but I'm sure the careful reader will be able to find many more.

Of course, the book is not all bad. It made two sound biblical points. Firstly, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jews have any distinct appearance. Paul gets mistaken for an Egyptian in Acts 21:38, while Jonah has to tell the sailors in Jonah 1:8 where he is from. Secondly, being Jewish is not, fundamentally a racial thing. Esther 8:17 says that "many people of other nationalities became Jews."

Anyway, here are some of the fallacies in the book.

1. False dichotomy: This is a false choice between two statements, when the reader may want to adopt a third statement.

So we have a choice of two theories, either that all our British ancestors were woad-painted savages in Caesar's time... or that we, as a race, have been civilised for at least 5000 years. (p. 31)

2. Argumentum ad hominem: Connecting a belief with a person's character or intelligence.

The man must be mad who, in the face of universal antiquity, refuses to believe that Constantine and his mother were Britons, born in Britain. (p. 43)

3. Contextomy: Quoting something out of context in order to support one's argument.

J. Foster Forbes... traces the builders of the megaliths, whom he calls the Iberians (i.e. Hebrews - H. B. C.) to the Egyptian city of Hu-Ra... (p. 62)

4. Argumentum ad verecundiam: (literally, "argument to respect") an appeal to authority.

The tracing of the Royal line of David to the present day fortunately presents no difficulty, because there is in the Royal archives at Windsor a chart showing the descent of our Royal Family from David the shepherd king, in unbroken line, and it should be borne in mind that no document finds its way into the Royal archives which has not pased through some Government department which is responsible for its accuracy... (p. 112)

5. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: (literally, "after this, therefore because of this") assuming that because one thing comes after another, the earlier must cause the produce the later.

We find the Trident on a coin of Antigonus, King of Judea, circa 39 BC, also on a coin of Berytus, Beruit in Syria. We follow the Trident to Eubaea in Greece, to Tarentum in the South of Italy, also on a coin of the Bretti, where the Kingdom of the Brittani first existed. A comparison of this coin of the Bretti with our modern English penny should satisfy anyone as to their identity. (p. 128)

Really, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Children's books in Tetun

John's sister, Jo, has been writing Christian children's books in Tetun (also known as Tetum), the language of East Timor. She has written and illustrated books on the Christmas story and the story of creation, and is currently working on a third book - Miguel Nia Jardin - looking at the story of the Fall. Actually, this current book is also in the Mambai language. Jo is working in partnership with a number of members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Timor Leste, who do the translation.

Anyway, Jo is busy blogging under her imprint name, Grasa Mesak ("grace alone"). Why not visit her blog and encourage her?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Radically biblical, but not quite the full picture

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

This book has been much discussed in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. One congregation has a reading group which has been studying it, and the METRO committee has given a copy to every minister.

The book has two core ideas. The first is that programs and organisational activity in a church (the "trellis") often get in the way of the real gospel work ("the vine"). The second is that real gospel work involves discipling others.

Now, I need to say at the outset that I am in fundamental agreement with these two emphases. Yet, it must be said that they are emphases only. It is very easy for a discipleship system to become a new trellis. The book's discussion on discipleship, however, is sufficiently nuanced to make it broader than just 1:1 discipling.

There were two things I particularly appreciated about the book. Firstly, Marshall and Payne make the point that the aim of Christian ministry is to "make disciples who make other disciples, to the glory of God," and not, for example, to get more people into small groups. This is very important for me to remember, since I would dearly love to see more people in my congregation join a small group. But that is only a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

The second thing I appreciated in this book was the argument in chapter 9 for investing time in more mature Christians so that they would join in the "vine work". Although a pastor may be naturally inclined to spend time with those who are struggling or those who need to hear the gospel, this book recommends an approach to ministry that trains others to do this - and suggests that the pastor focuses on those who need either the equipping or the encouragement to join you in the work. This is radical and controversial - yet it is the way Jesus carried out ministry, focusing on twelve disciples who would (at a later time) teach and disciple others. This is very different to the way many people view pastors and ministers - yet it is biblical.

This book is therefore one that stimulates thought and provokes disagreement. I was fine with the controversial point mentioned above, but there were two things that I didn't like about the book. In the first place, there is more to Christian ministry than discipleship, while in the second place, there is more to discipleship than just discipling individuals.

The book contains a truly hideous chart on page 101, which contrasts the "pastor as clergyman," "pastor as CEO," and "pastor as trainer." Naturally, the table is skewed towards making the reader approve of the third column and disapprove of the first two. It reminded me of the chart that D. A. Carson included in his Exegetical Fallacies (p. 109 of the 2nd edition). Apparently, the "pastor as trainer" approach sees Sunday as a "gathering of worshipping disciples with their Lord," while the "pastor as clergyman" model views Sunday as a "service of worship," and the "pastor as CEO" looks at it as an "attractional meeting." But surely it is possible to view it as both a "gathering of worshipping disciples with their Lord" and a "service of worship."

Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to draw on a modified version of Mark Driscoll's model of the pastor being prophet, priest and king. Following John Frame, Driscoll has suggested that some pastors are gifted as prophets ("thinkers"), others as priests ("feelers"), and still others as kings ("doers"). The point being, of course, is that we need all three of these aspects in a well-rounded ministry, and we need all three types serving as pastors. Maybe there is something similar going on with the three approaches that Marshall and Payne discuss:

Pastor as clergyman - prophet - focusing on public teaching
Pastor as trainer - priest - getting alongside people
Pastor as CEO - king - focus on organisation

Now, this book upholds the biblical and strategic importance of preaching, and views discipleship as being much bigger than meeting with individuals, but even with the widest possible definition, we can still see more to pastoring and teaching than this.

The second concern I have is that there is more to discipleship than discipling individuals. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples to "make disciples of all the nations," (NASB). Marshall and Payne take the line that "full time Christian ministry" is worthwhile for all people, and that there is a distinction between "gospel work" and "other work." They dismiss the idea that people in secular work are contributing in some way to the growth of God's kingdom, and criticise those who say "we shouldn't call people out of their secular careers; we should encourage them to stay where they are for God's glory" (p. 139). They then assert, "We don't make disciples of Jesus by building better bridges, but by prayerfully bringing the word of God to people."

There are two problems with this idea. The first is that it views the Great Commission as replacing (rather then supplementing or expanding) the creation mandate. The second is that it fails to realise how big discipling the nations really is. To take one example - Bible translation is an important component of discipling a nation. But Bible translation presupposes an entire discipline of linguistics. Would Marshall and Payne also say that "We don't make disciples of Jesus by building better verb paradigms"? Someone involved in linguistics is part of the progress of God's kingdom in the world. The Kingdom of God is bigger than individual disciples - it's about the reformation and renewal of families, churches, societies and nations.

In conclusion, this is a stimulating book, that may well prove to be one of the most influential books of 21st century Reformed evangelicalism.

John Dekker

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Birthday doings

On Saturday I turned 33. That's right - the age Jesus died.

Kara gave me a couple of P. G. Wodehouse books and some photos for my birthday. She made me breakfast - bacon, eggs and fried potatoes.

After a leisurely morning, we went out to get some birthday freebies. A number of stores give out free stuff on one's birthday - I got a 6-inch sub and drink at Subway, a serving of poffertjes at Planet Chocolate and a drink at Boost Juice.

We then went to the coin and stamp fair at Malvern Town Hall. Kara bought me a lovely Swedish coin, commemorating Oscar II's silver jubilee.


We spent some time wandering around shops - we visited a couple of stationery shops, and found some second-hand books in an antique shop. Then we went to dinner. We had taken the 2011 Good Food Guide out of the library, and decided to find a place to eat in that. We settled on mr. wolf, a pizza place in St. Kilda, and it didn't disappoint. Kara ordered a potato pizza, and I had one with pancetta, ham and eggs - which meant that in a satisfying sort of way we had begun and ended the day eating the same food.

Finally, we went to the free concert of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. About 10,000 people who were there were treated to Bernstein, Barber and Beethoven's 5th symphony.

And today we had a wonderful tiramisu which Kara made for me:


--John

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A playful, yet serious, paradox

Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton

The title is meant to be paradoxical. This is a series of stories about four men who do seemingly criminal acts - attempted murder, fraud, burglary and treason - yet act in perfect righteousness. The paradoxical nature of the book makes it similar to Chesterton's The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, though it is not quite as brilliant.

Chesterton was a great purveyor of paradox, and his playfulness and wit come through in this volume. Yet there is also a serious point being made. These four faultless felons are being radically counter-cultural. They are turning the world upside down, or at least their little part of it. Indeed, they are shocking in their pursuit of righteousness.

In fact, this book is really a fictional representation of Chestertons's maxim in The Everlasting Man: "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

I can recommend Four Faultless Felons to anyone. It is also available to read online.

John Dekker

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Creation Revealed in Six Days

I plan to blog in a new way this year. Instead of just listing the books I am reading monthly, I plan to post some proper book reviews, hopefully weekly.

Creation Revealed in Six Days by P. J. Wiseman

This book contains a little-known proposal on how to reconcile the narrative of Genesis 1 with geological evidence that suggests that the earth is millions of years old. There have been several different attempts at reconciliation - the Young Earth theory says that the universe was created in 144 hours and that geological dating which suggests otherwise is erroneous; the Day-Age theory suggests that the days of Genesis 1 are much longer periods of time, such as geological ages ; while the Gap Theory posits a long time between Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") and Genesis 1:2 ("And the earth was desolate and deserted"), so that the six (literal) days of creation occur when the earth is already very old. Gerald Schroeder has the ingenious theory that creation occurred in six days within the relativistic framework of the things being created, which equates to billions of years for an earth observer. Wiseman's theory is different to all of these - he argues that God revealed the story of creation to man in six literal days.

Wiseman's thesis argument rests on the hypothesis that the "generations" statements in Genesis refer to what come before rather than (as traditionally interpreted) headings for what come after. This is sometimes called the Wiseman hypothesis. Thus, Genesis 2:4 ("These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens") refers to the whole narrative from 1:1 to 2:3. Furthermore, Wiseman argues that generations means "written account" or "histories" and concludes that God's revelation of creation to man took six (literal) days.

This is an attractive theory precisely because it allows for a literal interpretation of the word "day", while at the same time accepting geological and other scientific evidence for an old earth. It is ultimately unconvincing in its argument about the word "generations" - how, for example, could Genesis 36:1 be referring to Genesis 35? Yet it does remind us that there are avenues of interpretation that we have hitherto overlooked, and ways of reconciling apparent contradictions that are still undiscovered.

The book is quite pleasant to read, although his arguments are not always clear. He does pay careful attention to the text, and that gives value to the book regardless of whether or not one agrees with his argument.

Wiseman was an Air Commodore in the Royal Air Force who became interested in biblical archaeology through his service in the Middle East. He was also the father of Donald Wiseman.

John Dekker

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BookSneeze Review: Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry

I recently obtained an advance review copy of this book from Booksneeze. I was intrigued by this statement on the back cover: "Traitor. Divider. Defender of slavery. This damning portrayal of Robert E. Lee has persisted through 150 years of history books. And yet it has no basis in fact." Strong words, these. Yet I was puzzled as well, for this supposed pervasive portrayal of Lee was something I failed to identify with. To the contrary, every previous Civil War book I had read, both pro and anti-Southern, conveyed only admiration for General Lee. Had I somehow missed something? This could hardly be reason enough to write a new biography about a man who has already had numberless words written about his life. The editor's note helped me to understand the motivation for this new series about American Generals. Stephen Mansfield asserts that most that has been written about the lives of American military leaders falls into two opposing categories, hagiography and revisionist history (in which the subject is a "reviled symbol of societal ills"). He states that it is time for a balance portrayal of our leaders, one that gives honour where it is due, and yet does not gloss over human frailty. More than that, the intent of the series is to "help us learn the lessons they [these generals] have to teach". (p.x) In the author's introduction, Perry proposes to answer the questions "Who was the real Robert E. Lee, how did he become the man he was, and how is the genuine article different from the myth?"(p.xviii)

As I read the biography, I was most struck by the difficulty Lee faced in balancing his sense of duty to his country with his devotion to his family. During his more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Army, he experienced many lengthy separations from his wife and children. Some of the agony he felt comes out in some of the letters to his wife, Mary Anna Custis, which the author quotes at length. Perry also brings out the close connection that Mary Anna's family had to George Washington, whose memory was still fresh in many American minds during the early 1800's. Even at such an early date, there emerge strong hints of the popular mythology that was to grow around the first President of the United States.

Drawing heavily from personal letters and J.William Jones' biography of Lee, Perry concludes that "Lee was not an infallible commander. His recurring flaw was to assume his subordinates had the same energy, bravery, resolve, and sense of self-sacrifice he did and then plan accordingly. ... Yet, ... Lee was a great leader...because he never abandoned his personal standards, [and] never wavered from doing what he thought was right even in the face of inevitable, crushing, devastating consequences." (p. 226) I found the book easy to read, and think that Perry a fair job in accomplishing his stated goals in writing the book. However, I would have appreciated more detailed references, rather than the rather short bibliography given at the end.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 in Books (Kara's list)

At the start of each new year, I like to look over all the books I read in the previous year. Sometimes I post the list on the blog. So here are all the new-to-me books I read in 2010, with my favourites in italics:

  1. The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson
  2. Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
  3. Asterix the Legionary
  4. Asterix in Spain
  5. Asterix in Britain
  6. Paddington Marches on by Michael Bond
  7. One Flesh by Amelia and Greg Clarke
  8. The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht
  9. Asterix the Gaul
  10. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
  11. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  12. Riverside Cup of Tea Recipes by Linda Lamp
  13. Tolkien's Gown and other stories of great authors and rare books by Rick Gekoski
  14. For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
  15. Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner
  16. The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton
  17. A Girl at Government House, ed. by Helen Vellacott
  18. Pride and Predator by Sally S. Wright
  19. Changing Planes by Ursula LeGuin
  20. Bobby Brewster's Ghost by H. E. Todd
  21. The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears
  22. Jane Austen by Peter Leithart
  23. The Immortal Lovers, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning by Frances Winwar
  24. Henry Reed's Baby-sitting Service by Keith Robertson
  25. Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner
  26. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  27. Wild Yam, Nature's Progesterone by Rita Elkins
  28. The Mystery of the Screaming Clock by Robert Arthur
  29. Pajama School by Natalie Wickham
  30. Reformed is Not Enough by Douglas Wilson
  31. The Chase by Louisa May Alcott
  32. Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan
  33. 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi
  34. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
  35. Healthy Indian in Minutes by Monisha Bharadwaj
  36. Turkish Cooking by Ghillie Gasan
  37. North African Cooking by Tess Mallos
  38. Repairing the Ruins, ed. Douglas Wilson
  39. Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
  40. Psmith Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
  41. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  42. Curry (Dorling Kindersley)
  43. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
  44. A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Douglas Wilson
  45. Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  46. A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith
  47. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
  48. Eating with Emperors by Jake Smith
  49. Around the World in 80 Dinners by Bill and Cheryl Jamison
  50. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  51. The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple
  52. Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver
  53. Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape
  54. One Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis
  55. Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis
  56. Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree
  57. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
  58. The Italian Baker by Carol Field
  59. Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf
  60. Blessed are the Hungry by Peter Leithart
  61. Cat O' Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer
  62. To Cut a Long Story Short by Jeffrey Archer
  63. Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry
  64. Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson
  65. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  66. Eddie's Big Deals by Carolyn Haywood

Kara's Reading Goals for 2011

Last year I listed twelve books, chosen to fill out a well-rounded set of genres . This year, I just made a list of the books I want to read, and then found categories to put them in. I intended to stop at twelve, but just couldn't. So here are the thirteen books I plan to read in 2011.

Theology:

Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

For some reason, I've not yet read this.

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers

Biblical Studies:

Through New Eyes by James Jordan In progress

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy Finished

Both books highly recommended by my husband.

Nature:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard Finished

This got a mention in Yancey's Soul Survivor, which I read a year ago.

Humour:

Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse Finished

Because one must always have some Wodehouse at hand.

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome Began and finished in January

Because my dear sister says this is just as funny as Three Men in a Boat.


Children's book:

Redwall by Brian Jacques Finished

Biography:

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Poetry:

Untune the Sky by Douglas Wilson Finished


Travel:

In Xanadu by William Dalrymple Finished

Now that I've read everything else in the house by Dalrymple, it's time to read his account of travelling in the steps of Marco Polo.

Philosophy:

The Journey by Peter Kreeft