Not a Tame Lion–The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis by Terry Gaspey–Book Review

This biography of C.S. Lewis is the second I’ve read from the Leaders In Action series recommended by Fanning the Flame.  I chose it because Lewis is a writer (and I’m an English major) and I’m familiar with most of his work.  This book is written with the average reader in mind and doesn’t try to give an academic critique of Lewis as an author.

Lewis was a well-known Christian apologist, who believed that intellect is an important element of our faith.  His own conversion was gradual, as he came to accept that Christianity was not “pie in the sky” but was the religion that made the most sense.  Throughout his writing he tried to provide reasonable, logical answers to those questions people faced in becoming or remaining Christian.  He also wrote fictional works that, like the parables of Jesus, put the tenets of the faith into stories that were easily understood and appealed to both children and adults.  He read widely (another reason I like him), wrote clearly and engagingly and had an astonishing grasp of many subjects.

According to the author, the factors behind Lewis’s success in conveying the Christian message are these:

  1. He emphasized the reasonableness of the gospel, showing that it is based on logic and common sense, not wishful thinking
  2. He used his amazingly detailed imagination to represent the truth of the gospel in fresh ways that spoke to contemporary readers
  3. He demonstrated in both his writing and his personal life that following the gospel was indeed possible and that people can live out the gospel daily

I enjoyed the book, and it made me want to check our the work of C.S. Lewis once again, since I read most of his books when I was much younger.  I might have an entirely new perspective now.  Lewis himself believed in reading good books over and over (not a discipline I’ve developed.)  He is certainly a worthy role model for any Christian writer.

Note to Lutherans:  You will find some differences in Lewis’s theology, particularly related to free will and election

Verdict:  5 stars

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Beyond Stateliest Marble by Douglas Wilson — Book Review

This book is part of the Leaders In Action series edited by George Grant.  The series was recommended in one of the Fanning the Flame CD’s our team listened to recently.  The idea is that leaders should seek out historical and Biblical leaders they can emulate.  I chose this particular book because it is the only one in the series whose subject is a woman.

Anne Bradstreet was a wife, mother, devout Puritan and also a poet.  She, her husband and other members of her family came from England to American in 1630 and eventually settled in Boston.  Both her father, Thomas Dudley, and her husband, Simon Bradstreet served as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The author goes to great pains to show us that the Puritans were not dull, dour or uneducated, and that Anne, as an intellectually curious, passionate and winsome woman was not out of place in their midst.  Her world view was completely Christian and orthodox (in her case, Calvinistic).   Her poems dealt with her own everyday concerns such as family, household possessions, deliverance from illness, and the struggles that come with the death of loved ones.  She considered everything that was happening to her in light of Biblical teaching.  She questioned, but never challenged God.

“Like all Christians, she (Anne) had to strive in her faithfulness to God …. she was a Christian growing in the midst of trials.”

Cotton Mather called her poetry “a Monument for her Memory beyond the stateliest marbles.”  She was the first American poetess before Emily Dickinson, and unlike Dickinson, she wrote while in the midst of a full and rich family life.  However, biographer Elizabeth White says:

“It is as a human being,…. that she can still appeal to us over the centuries.  She had a firm and lively character, avid for knowledge, generous in affection and admiration, with a quiet but perceptive humor….”

Anne is certainly worthy of admiration and imitation.  She was a woman of her time, and she lived in her time and her station with joy.  Isn’t that what we all want to do?  Her personality comes through in her poetry and in the way she conducted her life and influenced others in her family and community.  I would recommend this book as a means of learning more about Anne and the early Puritans.  Verdict:  4 stars — I enjoyed it, but it may be too much of an English major moment for some readers!

Afraid of all the Things by Scarlet Hiltibidal–Book Review

Scarlet Hiltibidal and I have a lot in common;  she likes to write;  her favorite yogurt is Chobani almond coco loco;  and she’s afraid of many things.  As a child, she kept a journal of all the things that scared her– everything from firenadoes (yes, there is such a thing), plane crashes, drive-by shootings and not getting enough sleep.  As an adult, she recognizes that sometimes we anxious folks need medical intervention — the brain is part of our body, and a problem with it can’t always be overcome by positive thinking, anymore than thinking good thoughts will cure a stomach ache.  However, as Christians, we do have some important tools to help us work through our worry issues.  In other words through, our faith we gain the fortitude to cope with anxiety.

Afraid of All the Things

  • Sometimes we anxious people try to fake it.  We put on a façade of control.  Here’s what Scarlet says about that:

“If your identity revolves around a job, or a person, or what your body looks like, or anything other than Jesus, you will continue to live burdened;  and you will ultimately compound your fear.”

In other words, we don’t have to pretend;  we can rest in our true worth as children of God.

  • Anxious minds are distracted minds;  they wander everywhere imagining all sorts of tragic scenarios;  most of all they focus on the self.  To combat this, we need to become single-minded, focusing on God and His word.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, think on these things…” Philippians 4:8

Memorizing scripture and repeating comforting verses in times of stress will calm our fears.

  • We can learn to accept help from other Christians.

“It’s scary out there.  We can’t do it without each other.  And the gifts that come from learning to lean on one another are priceless.”

 

  • Finally, when anxiety strikes, we can remember that fear has already been defeated.

“The work of Jesus on the cross has ALREADY saved us and WILL save us forever.”

Nothing that happens to us can affect our ultimate destiny.  Our sins, our fears, even our death will not last forever.

Verdict:  I’ve read many resources on anxiety, and I didn’t learn anything new from this one.  It was a bit repetitive.  However, Hiltibidal keeps the reader engaged with her personal examples and her Christian perspective is spot on.  I give it 4 stars.  If you would like to order this book, follow the link below:

https://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/afraid-of-all-the-things-3/

 

 

On Thomas Merton by Mary Gordon–Book Review

Thomas Merton’s conversion to Catholicism is detailed in his famous autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain.  He eventually became a Trappist monk.  This book by Mary Gordon focuses on Merton as a writer, and will mainly be of interest to other writers (and English major types, like me).  If you haven’t yet read much by or about or Merton, don’t start with this one.  You will get bits of her personal life, but not in a linear way.

On Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was a man of contradictions.  As a contemplative and Trappist, he was called to silence;  at the same time his vocation as a writer encouraged him to have a strong voice.  In fact, he was often under pressure from his superiors to “produce” more books to earn money for the monastery.  He doesn’t seem completely comfortable as a monk;  yet he can’t escape his love for Gethsemani and his calling to the community there.  It was an integral part of his personality as a man and as a writer.  Gordon says,

“If Thomas Merton has been a writer and not a monk, we would never have heard of him.  If Thomas Merton had been a monk and not a writer, we would never have heard of him.”

In this short book, Gordon discusses at length a novel entitled My Argument with the Gestapo, written by Merton in 1941 and unpublished until a year after his death.  She also includes some of his correspondence with other writers, including Evelyn Waugh and Czeslaw Milosz (a Polish poet).  If you’re not interested in writing, you’ll bog down in these literary discussions.  You’ll also learn, if you didn’t know, that Merton wrote poetry at times.

Gordon saw Merton’s journals as his greatest accomplishment.  They contained his greatest writing and were the form to which he was best suited.  She describes him as “ardent, heartfelt and headlong.”  His passionate relationship with God is what comes through consistently.

My verdict?  Two stars.  This book won’t have a wide appeal.

Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale–Book Review

I checked this book out of the local library after I did a spiritual gift assessment with a young man at our church.  He is in college, and it turns out that he is very interested in philosophy and “deep thinking.”  I told him he might enjoy reading some Christian apologists.  No, this doesn’t mean people who apologize for being Christian;  apologetics is the branch of theology that deals with explaining and defending the faith.  I know some of the writings of C.S. Lewis fall into this category, as well as books by Lee Strobel (The Case For Christ).  I asked my husband for some other suggestions, and he mentioned Ravi Zacharias, which led me to Jesus Among Secular Gods.

Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Countercultural Claims of Christ

Dr. Zacharias is an Indian-born Christian who is well known as an author and has received numerous honorary doctorates in recognition of the impact of his work.  This book was co-authored with Dr. Vince Vitale, Director of the Zacharias Institute, who has been a Professor of Philosophy of Religion at both Yale and Oxford.

The book did not disappoint;  I think my young friend would like it, as would most Christians seeking to better understand secular philosophies and how to counter their attacks on Christianity.  Each chapter is written by one of the authors and presents various modern day approaches to the big questions of life — how we came to exist and why we are here. One major point Zacharias and Vitale make is that we are losing our ability to disagree in love.  Disagreeing should not lead to disrespect and demonizing. People today have become afraid to disagree, because they see it as a personal attack.  Only through open questioning and debate can people arrive at the truth and love one another despite differences.

The conclusion of the authors is that each secular philosophy contains a partial truth.  Below is a direct quote.

“Scientism:  The partial truth is that science explains a lot.  But we forget that it cannot explain itself, and it cannot explain many of the most important things in life.

 

Relativism:  The partial truth is that refusing to see things from another’s perspective is dangerous and lacks love.  But we forget that this relies on there being an objective perspective according to which those different from us are valuable and worthy of respect.

 

Pantheism:  The partial truth is the divine is everywhere and that union with the divine is our destiny.  But that union is not the union of sameness, but the union of relationship.

 

Pluralism:  The partial truth is that no worldview has a monopoly on truth.  But we mistake this for all worldviews being equally true.

 

Humanism:  Human persons were indeed made for greatness.  But greatness results from divine grace and strength, not human self-reliance.

 

Hedonism:  Pleasure is good.  But it is not all that is good.”

Any Christian who reads this book will finish better prepared to explain why Christianity is the best answer to the questions of existence.  The material is clear and not too technical or academic for most to understand.

VERDICT:  I recommend this book and give it five stars!

A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller– Book Review

This little book is considered something of a classic.  I read it as a morning devotional for a while, one chapter at a time.  In it, Keller relates his own experiences as a shepherd to the concepts in the 23rd Psalm.  Many of us have grown up far from a farming or ranching life and know very little about animals, their habits, and what owners do to keep their flock or herd healthy.  Original readers and hearers of this psalm would have had a wealth of background information that modern Christians have lost.  For example, did you know:

  • Sheep are timid and easily frightened into stampeding by the smallest of animals (for example a jackrabbit jumping into their midst);  they are also disturbed by infighting among the flock — nothing quiets down these anxieties and tensions down as much as the presence of the shepherd among them.
  • It is not unusual for a sheep to accidentally become turned over on its’ back and be unable to get up by itself.  The old English term for this is “cast” or “cast down.”  A “cast” sheep is helpless and dependent upon the shepherd to find and restore it.
  • When sheep are left to themselves they will destroy their grazing fields.  They stay in the same location, follow the same paths, overgraze and pollute the area until it is ruined.  They require the attention of a good shepherd to move the sheep continually  so that they and they and the land are preserved.
  • Sheep are troubled by flies, gnats and other parasites during the summer months.  To alleviate their discomfort, the shepherd will apply a remedy including linseed oil to their heads–he anoints them.

Throughout the book, Keller parallels our lives with God and the life of the sheep with a good shepherd.  He says:

“… it is not mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep.  Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.”

and:

“When all is said and done the welfare of any flock is entirely dependent upon the management afforded them by their owner.”

VERDICT:  5 stars.  I think most Christians will enjoy this book and develop a deeper insight into a Psalm we repeat so often that we seldom stop to meditate on the deeper meaning.

 

Sacred Holidays – Book Review

The author, Becky Kiser, takes you on a journey through the calendar in this helpful book on making the holidays more Jesus, less chaos.

 

The first thing I recommend is to read the foreword “How to Use This Book”.  I will admit that I usually skim over them, but the foreword in this book gives detailed information on how the book is meant to be used and is necessary to understand the format.

 

The contents page will provide a great reference in explaining when to take advantage of her helpful insights by “holiday”.

 

Part 1, she tells us to READ NOW, it forms the basis of getting your mind into the upcoming implementation of steps, which is broken down by the holiday in Part 2.  Each holiday has its own section which you are told to read 30 to 60 days in advance of the actual day.

 

The author is keenly aware of the obstacles and struggles that can occur and has included Part 3 to give you some additional advice on how to handle situations that may come up.

 

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.  People who enjoy entertaining and setting up for the holidays will find a lot of good ideas to assist them.  I, myself, am not really into the holiday entertaining, but I found myself realizing that maybe because of the chaos and stress that can occur I chose to just not do it.

 

Read, Enjoy, Implement the strategies in this book and you will find your holidays with

 

More Jesus, less chaos

 

https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/sacred-holidays-P005805602