Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Book On The Way

Lucid Books has just inked a deal with John Bisagno, former pastor of First Baptist Houston, to publish and promote his new book coming out early next year on the subject of love and marriage. I have had the chance to read parts of the book already and am very excited about it - it is a neccesary book and written by a man who can speak truth and breathe life into the subject of love. More details will be coming out about the book soon.

It has been a privilege to get to know John Bisagno through this process. He is, in the best sense of the word, a pastor. Seeing him interact with people, tell stories, listen and correct others is refreshing. My sense of Southern Baptist pastors from his generation is admittedly jaded from others that I have met, but John carries himself so well and speaks so articulately that I can see my former stereotype was wrong. He is a faithful pastor, gifted preacher, devoted husband and father, and a Bible-believing Christian - I look forward to publishing this book and helping connect him with current and new generations of Christians.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What The Dog Saw - Book Review

This book consists of a collection of stories that have previously appeared in The New Yorker, all written by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a talented writer who is able to draw from many disciplines and change the inane to the interesting. These shorter works are disconnected, only loosely fitting into the three categories that Gladwell divides them into: Minor Geniuses, Theories, & Intelligence. Gladwell’s Blink and The Tipping Point remain his best works, but this book is still an entertaining, thought provoking read.

The section on Minor Geniuses covers Ron Popeil, Ketchup, Taleb and the Black Swan, Hair Dye, the inventor of birth control, and the dog whisperer. The two that stand out in this section are the first and the last. Ron Popeil’s history is interesting and Gladwell sheds light onto his personality and business style like few interviewers good. He manages to capture Popeil’s zeal for his products in way that may compel you to purchase a Showtime Rotisserie after reading this chapter. The other highlight of the Minor Geniuses section is the chapter on Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. Having never seen the show, Gladwell once again excels in conveying both Millan’s electric personality and his passion for his business. The animal psychology that Millan specializes in is fascinating and makes a great read.

The next section is devoted to Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses and covers information theory, how to solve homelessness, the limits of photography, plagiarism, intelligence reform, the difference between choking and panicking, and the Challenger Explosion. The first chapter that stands out in this section is the one on homelessness. Gladwell presents an economic case for social reform. While there are some pieces missing to the puzzle, this chapter is thought provoking and will get you to think about solving social problems in new ways. Gladwell’s greatest gift, in my opinion, is attacking subjects from a new angle, coming at them sideways instead of headlong, and allowing the reader to think in fresh ways – the chapter on homelessness, Million-Dollar Murray, is a great example. Others that are worth spending some time on include The Picture Problem and The Art of Failure.

The final division in What The Dog Saw is dedicated to Personality, Character, and Intelligence. This was certainly the most consistent section, no duds to be found. The chapters cover how we define genius, hiring practices, criminal profiling, the talent myth, interviews, and what pit bulls can teach us about crime. The section on criminal profiling was new information to me and is presented in a credible way. Gladwell gently tries to pry away the assumptions that we have about criminal profiling and does a great job. Again, this is not a complete picture, but Gladwell gives just enough information to prove his point valid and warrant further research in one is inclined to learn more. The other standout in the section is the last chapter on crime and pit bulls, though each chapter in this section was worth reading.

In my estimation, Gladwell is one of the best writers that we have now. He has combined great writing skill and a knack for exposing excellent stories where there seem to be none. Some have warned that he is not a scientist, does not provide enough information, and does not provide enough research to prove his points. I agree with all of that to an extent, but am thankful for it. Writers who are able to take the hard sciences and popularize them with stories and anecdotes are a gift and we need more of them, not less. This is thought provoking, entertaining literature and is recommended.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Halloween & Satanism - Book Review

Ran across this book at a used bookstore around Halloween this year and decided to give it a try. There has always been much debate among Christians about the celebration of holidays – Santa or no Santa, Easter bunny, dress up for Halloween, etc. My purpose in this review is not to chime in on this debate in particular. I am not a parent yet and have not made those decisions for my own family. Rather, this review will be based on whether the authors succeed in their purpose by writing this book.

The purpose: Convince the reader that Halloween & Satanism are inextricably connected and that no Christian should celebrate Halloween in any form. Does is succeed? Short answer, no.

It seems that the authors forgot their proposed purpose of the book immediately after the first few pages were written. The meat of the book should have been limited to the connections between Halloween and Satanism.

Though there is not much in the book that links Halloween with Satanism, the author does provide two points. One, Halloween is the same date that Satanists have their largest holiday. This argument, while true, is rather weak. By the authors’ own admission, it has also been an important date in the history of Christianity. In fact, Halloween gets its name from it connection with church history, not Satanism (All Hallow’s Eve.) The authors second point is that fear itself is patently unbiblical and Halloween promotes fear. This is where the book starts to unravel for me. With no exegetical evidence, the authors make sweeping statements about fear with little explanation. They do not come close to proving that fear itself is anti-Christian.

Even though the book fails in its purpose, there is still some information in the book worth reading. The bulk of this book is really an index for Satanism and other occult practices. If you are looking for a popular introduction to Satanic rituals and their reality in modern life, you could start in worse places. Word of warning, these descriptions are very disturbing and not easy to read. In addition, everything here must be taken with a grain of salt – there are references to other works to back them up, but it still reads as an opinion paper instead of a researched book on an important subject.

Even if it is just read as an introduction to the dangers of the occult world, there are more things red flags to beware. The authors wrongly state that a believer can lose their salvation (page 156), show zero sympathy for the torture of women accused as witches (page 120,) and promote a self-help style of pop-Christianity throughout. Because demon possession and Satanism are real and dangerous, these fast and loose interpretations fall far short of the mark. Bottom line: skip it. If you are looking for a book to help you decide whether or not your kids should participate in Halloween activities, this is not it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Violent Bear It Away

"In the darkest, most private part of his soul, hanging upsidedown like a sleeping bat, was the certain, undeniable knowledge that he was not hungry for the bread of life."

Haunting. Flannery O'Connor, though she wrote only two novels in addition to her many short stories, had a gift for writing haunting works. The Violent Bear It Away is perhaps the best example of this. It would be hard to describe what this book is really about at its core - religious suffocation, the failure of reason, and the weakness of man are all major themes in this book. She is one of the very best Christian writers that we have been blessed with this century, and her unique voice should be heard by many more.

The battle of reason that plays out in the book is reminiscent of the "new atheism" in the modern era. In fact, this book so eerily describes modern atheism that could be called prophetic. The struggle between Rayber's character and his own humanity is deftly handled, and recognizable even for committed Christians who struggle against truth. To be sure, the inner battles of the people in this book are guaranteed to make the reader very uncomfortable. Few works of fiction go beyond mere entertainment, and fewer still can make an impression on one's soul like this book does.

The prescient descriptions of the character's inner thoughts ring true in a way that is missing from most other works. If you are looking for a book that will affect you, that will haunt you, and that you will want to read again even though it will make you uncomfortable, then read The Violent Bear It Away. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why Read Fiction?

"All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you've read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstacy and sorrow, the food wine, bed, people and the weather. If you can give that to readers, then you're a writer."

- Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Great post on 8 dangers of Quiverfull Theology on Wade Burleson's blog.

This is a tough issue to wade through for Christians. Resolving the tension between the dangers of this theology and the blessings of having children is difficult to say the least, but I think these 8 reasons are a good starting point for a discussion. As an added bonus, Paige Patterson and Al Mohler are critiqued for the same reason, a rare thing these days in Baptist circles.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Planned Parenthood Director Quits

This was a local story that made national news. Apparently, the planned parenthood director in Bryan, Texas quit after watching an abortion take place over ultrasound. As horrific and ungodly as that sounds, this small story may be a snapshot of what's to come in America. While the politicians have dropped the ball and continued to make empty promises concerning abortion, pregnancy care centers have slowly worked towards real change. Pregnancy care centers now outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by a wide margin and are changing the way the public views abortion. In the midst of daily bad news and the tragic statistics of American abortion rates, there is a light at the end of the tunnel - God is at work.

Be sure and check out Al Mohler's book, Culture Shift. There are two excellent chapters on abortion that tackle it from different angles than the typical Christian book. One of them is on the power of ultrasound to end abortion. The other is on the evidence that the pro life movement is winning the war against abortion, albeit silently and slowly.

Monday, November 2, 2009


This is as entertaining as any other fiction or non-fiction book you will read all year.  It is a fascinating look at the “Why” behind human action. The book includes discussions on why women choose prostitution, how to cool the earth, why don’t more doctors was their hands, should we implement a pay-per-kidney program in the US, and much more.

Many reviews out there have already explained the different ideas in the book, so I will just highlight two of my favorites. The first is the discussion on altruism. This is a fascinating look at why humans give, if they really give at all, and how likely it is that one human being will help another. While some may find the economic approach to questions like this cold, the facts speak for themselves and the authors merely highlight what some people don’t want to know – by and large, humanity is not naturally altruistic.

The other chapter that was interesting, mainly because of the debate over the airwaves as to its validity, is the chapter on proposed global warming solutions. The uproar over the simple solutions proposed by intelligent scientists exposes the motivations behind much of the environmental hype machine that is in place today. The authors affirm global warming is real, but they are willing to look at radical (cheap) solutions to help solve it.

All in all, this is a pretty good book, though it does fall short of the high standard set by their first book, Freakonomics.  Recommended.

The Millenial Maze - Book Review

The Millennial Maze is a great introduction to the different perspectives on the millennium. I had very little knowledge of the differences in the perspectives on the millennium before reading this book, and came away with a greater understanding of each. For this type of book, Mr. Grenz has a very commendable tone when it comes to perspectives other than his own (amillennialism.) He starts off the book with a call for understanding, and successfully carries the tone through the rest of the book.

“Rather, because there are deeper issues at stake in this debate, we must strive to see clearly the world view represented by each of the major positions. And having done so, we can then listen intently to what the Spirit is saying to the church through each.”

The book starts off with an introduction to the millennial perspectives and the Bible, followed by an account of millennial views throughout church history. The church history portion is especially interesting and could serve as a good starting point for a more thorough examination of the subject. Fascinating to see how much church history and world history seems to influence the dominant millennial view for any specific era. For example, American was largely postmillennial in the early yeas of democracy when it seemed as if the entire nation would be Christianized. Contrast that with the America of today dominated by dispensational premillennialism, a perspective that does hold to the optimism that the postmillennial perspective does.

Each of the four perspectives then gets its own chapter, including an introduction to the perspective, history behind the perspective, and, finally, a brief analysis of each one’s strengths and weaknesses.

Postmillennial: Widely misunderstood as “liberal,” this minority view was treated fairly in the book. One thing to note that I did know before- Jonathan Edwards, my favorite American theologian, was postmillennial.

Premillennial (Dispensational): While Grenz did a great job explaining this position, I would have liked to see more of the arguments for this position. Some of the tenants of the position were presented as little more than straw men, and I’m sure that the arguments for this perspective are better than presented here. The reader will be able to tell that Grenz finds himself farthest from this position. In any book attempting to interact with multiple perspectives, this is to be expected. Grenz does an admirable job and rightly highlights some of the major differences. The explanation of the doctrine of the rapture and the dispensational perspective on the separation of the church and Israel were the highlights of this chapter. Dispensationalism is the only perspective that strictly divides the church and Israel.

Premillennial (Historic): Very good account of this history of this view and a brief explanation of where it falls on the millennial spectrum. The shortest chapter of the different views, but very helpful.

Amillennial: Grenz does a nice job with this view and presents a compelling case for perspective, which is distinguished as the only view that does not expect an early millennium. The chapter is well done and a great introduction to this perspective.

Finally, Grenz wraps up the book by again calling for unity and pointing out that the church has much to gain from each of these perspectives. His continued pursuit of unity among evangelicals is refreshing.

The book is highly recommended and a great start for millennial studies. As Grenz says on the back cover . . . “On this issue evangelicals are all united: Jesus is coming back!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Should Christians Fast Alongside Muslims?

Hard to believe this was actually a question on Christianity Today. Thank God for the voices of reason, especially Doug Wilson.

"It is not appropriate to fast alongside Muslims. I wouldn't make a point, if I were in a heavily Muslim state where everybody is fasting during the day, of fixing a hot dog and walking outside and eating it … but to observe Ramadan along with your Muslim neighbors and friends, letting them know that you're observing Ramadan as an act of some sort of religious or spiritual solidarity, is simply a fundamental compromise. They're observing Ramadan in the service of a false God and a false gospel, and we shouldn't be trying to express our solidarity with that."
Douglas Wilson, senior pastor, Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology, New St. Andrews College

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Other Gods

The First Commandment: Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me

"Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires, namely, that man's entire heart and all his confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. For to have God, you can easily perceive, is not to lay hold of Him with our hands or to put Him in a bag [as money], or to lock Him in a chest [as silver vessels]. But to apprehend Him means when the heart lays hold of Him and clings to Him. But to cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust in Him entirely. For this reason He wishes to turn us away from everything else that exists outside of Him, and to draw us to Himself, namely, because He is the only eternal good. As though He would say; Whatever you have heretofore sought of the saints, or for whatever [things] you have trusted in Mammon or anything else, expect it all of Me, and regard Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you richly all good things."

The words above from Martin Luther's Large Catechism serve as a sobering reminder that idols are not made out of brick, wood, and stone alone - often, they are found in our heart. In Timothy Keller's new book, Counterfeit Gods, he lays out a case for idolatry in our current time that should pierce every Christian to the core. As Keller says in the beginning of his book, perhaps there is no better time to be reminded of the idols in our own hearts then in a time of uncertainty. The current economic crisis has stripped away our masks of religiosity and exposed idols that we did not know existed.

In Keller's second chapter, he focuses on love and sex. He specifically shows how our love for other human beings becomes an idol if we place our love for them above our love for God. Following that, Keller expands on the lust for money that is pervasive in our culture. Personally, I was especially convicted of the sin of greed when reading this part of the book. Greed is a subtle, deadly sin. It enters our lives unannounced and, if allowed to grow unchecked, is undetectable by those in its grasp.

After focusing on love and money as idols, Keller turns to politics. This book is worth the price for this chapter alone. It lays bare the misguided hopes and trust that Christians place in human government and brings one of the Enemy's most potent secrets to light. The warring factions in politics, especially among Christians, can reveal who are trust is really placed in. Individual Freedoms? Our Nation's Sovereignty? The Ability to Choose? Education for All? Healthcare for All? Or the Holy One, the Living God, Our Father in Heaven. Just as Nebuchadnezzar saw the statue built of human achievement crumble under God's power, Keller smashes the political idols in our own lives swiftly, painfully, convincingly.

No other Christian writer of our generation is on par with Keller's work right now. His ability to popularize Biblical truths without sacrificing any of their depth is unmatched. He has been called the C.S. Lewis of our time and it is an apt description. Though The Prodigal God is still his best work, Counterfeit Gods is a close second. You will not find a more enlightening, convicting book - it is must read for every Christian who desires to put to death the earthly idols that consume us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Should have a review up soon for Tim Keller's new book, Counterfeit Gods.  As an introduction to the basic theme of the book, I thought that Mark Driscoll's recent appearance on Nightline's "Ten Commandments" segment would work well . . . hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Public Enemies - Book Review

Never saw the movie that was based on this book (also called Public Enemies) because of the mixed reviews that I heard.  Browsing in a bookstore one day, I ran across the book.  After reading the back copy and realizing that it was a non-fiction account of “America’s Greatest Crime Wave,” I decided to pick it up.

I started reading it that same day and did not put down the 500+ page tome until I read the last word.  This book is up there with the best of the fictionalized non-fiction genre (In Cold Blood, The Devil In The White City, etc.) and is fascinating from the first page. Reading the lurid tales of Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and many other gangsters through this turbulent two year period is an unexpectedly gratifying journey through history.

All of these gangsters rose to prominence in the same two year time period. It was the best of times for those outside the law. They had more money, guns, and better cars than most of the police. When this started to change with the creation of the FBI, and Hoover’s persistent expansion of its powers, the battle between the good boys and the bad was quickly reaching a crescendo in the early 1930’s.  Burrough’s thoroughly recounts the details of the gangsters’ lives, taking what most have been truckloads of research and condensing it into palatable chunks of information. 

As great as the book is, it does have one flaw in particular. It would have been nice to include more personal information about the FBI, especially Hoover. Both Melvin Purvis and Hoover get a perfunctory once-over compared to the gangsters, but the rest of the FBI agents hardly get a mention.  I was especially disappointed not to learn more about the rumors about Hoover’s personal life, which barely warrants one line in this book.

All in all, this is a must read for anyone remotely interested in this time period, the creation of the FBI, or 30’s era gangsters.  In addition to it being a good history lesson and a great book, it also offers insight into the phenomenon of the criminally famous and the blurred lines between the “good” folks and bad.  Dillinger’s portrayal was especially interesting and sheds light on the why he did what he did rather than simply recounting his deeds.  Reading about the ordinary men who entered a life of crime during tough economic times reminds us how close all of us are to desperation and wrongdoing unless we are grounded in something more substantial than financial comfort. Recommended.

An Evening of Eschatology

After the Desiring God Conference this year, John Piper asked a few of the participants to stick around and engage in a panel discussion on eschatology.  There is a representative from Postmillennialism, Amillennialism, and Premillennialism.

The discussion is very interesting and is available here.

Honest and open . . . refreshing for a debate on eschatology.  Each party respects the others views and each representative admits the weaknesses inherent in their own view.  The best speaker/debater on the panel by far is Doug Wilson, the representative of Postmillenialism, but everyone else holds their own as well.

Eschatology (the study of last things) is a fascinating subject in these times and fiercely debated among Christians.  What does one's view of the millennium matter as long as all evangelicals agree Jesus is coming back?  My honest answer is that I have no idea.  The Evening of Eschatology has whet my appetite, so to speak, and I am already starting to read books that will help explain the different points of views.  The first book that I am reading and reviewing for The Lucid Blog will be "The Millennial Maze" by Stanley J. Grenz.

In addition to reviewing eschatology books and materials, I will also attempt to define each position in layman's terms to provide a clearer understanding of what each viewpoint holds to.  As good as the Evening at Eschatology is as a launching pad into this subject, I came away with less clarity on each point of view rather than more clarity.

What are your thoughts on the debate?  What about eschatology in general?  Which category would you place yourself in?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting Started

The Lucid Blog, a service of Lucid Books, is launching today.

The Lucid Blog will:
  • Interact with Christianity, culture, and church in a meaningful way
  • Provide reviews for current and/or interesting products
  • Serve as a portal for Lucid Books Authors to introduce their new books
The Lucid Blog will be updated at least once daily.  The contributors are Brad Bevers and Casey Cease, co-owners of Lucid Books

The Lucid Blog:  Clear Thinking About Christianity, Culture, and Church