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!”