Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Note I am reviewing this book in light of it being a Memorial Day holiday.  I am thankful and indebt to the men and women who have died defending our country.No Hero Mark Owen

Mark Owen. No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL.  New York, NY: Penguin Group, May 20th, 2014. 304 pp.

The author was among the SEALs who participated in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  I have previously read and reviewed his earlier controversial book titled No Easy Day that gave his firsthand account of the famous raid.  In this second book the author moves beyond Operation Neptune and covers his story including his personal childhood growing up in Alaska and his determination to be a SEAL at an early age.  The book also covered his decade plus experience of being a SEAL operator.  This is a book that will make the readers appreciate the fact that there are men defending our country and stand in the line of fire against evil men around the world.

The book opens up with a prologue titled “Forty Names.”  Here he tells us about him being home and hearing about the helicopter containing another squadron of SEAL Team Six that was shot down  not too long after the Bin Laden raid.  I thought this opening was a sobering reminder that what one is about to read is not just some fictional adventure but true stories of the men who risked it all in defense of our country.

The chapters in the book were written in such a way as to impart to the readers lessons the author learn that was also relevant for everyday life.  As someone who was in the Marines and never liked height the best chapter that stuck with me is chapter three on fear in which Owen tells us of his rock climbing training in Nevada.  Owen is also someone who does not like heights and during the rock climbing exercise he experienced a moment in which he froze.  The civilian “billy goat” instructor climbed over to him and gave him an advice that changed his life: Don’t look at the things that he can’t control but rather stay “in your three foot world.”  Focus on the things that you can have some control over.  This helped him not only with his immediate rock climb but also other areas of life in the SEALs.  I thought this was very helpful for life in general!

I also enjoyed his chapter on the importance of communication in which he talked about after action report and how that helped the SEALs community to implement lessons learned.  He also had a good chapter about accountability and relationships.  I loved how he described the closeness of his SEAL team and contrasted that with the one mission he went alone with the CIA in Pakistan and just how much displeasure he had with the CIA’s culture of everyone for himself and the politics within that agency.

Also interesting was his chapter on compartmentalization towards the end of the book in which he talked about killing.  He shares about how after many so many deployments soon he was having difficulties sleeping when he came back home and felt the need to go to his SEAL locker cage to prep his gear for the next mission.  His account of being alert for danger and the messed up thing he saw is something other combat veterans could relate to and I thought it was important he shared this so that over veterans who were not with Special Operations Forces can realize that they too are humans (though of course tough ones).

Read this to appreciate the men and women who serve—especially those who were in combat and those in combat with Special Operation Forces such as the SEALs.

Purchase: Amazon

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Note: We post this review of this Graphic Novel in the week before Memorial Day so as to remember those who have served in the military and have lost their lives.  Also, this review is part of our . Harlem HellFighter Max Brooks

Max Brooks and Caanan White. The Harlem Hellfighters.  New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2014. 257 pp.

Ever since I read Gene Yang’s Boxers and Saints I have been trying to find Graphic Novels that are something of the same caliber: good storytelling with a good eye for historical details.  I admit it has not been easy find works that matches those criteria.  Fortunately The Harlem Hellfighters is one of them.  Max Brooks and his illustrator Caanan White presents to us a fictional account of the US Army’s 369th Infantry Regiment which was an African American unit during World War One.  I enjoyed the story telling of this Graphic Novel.  As a veteran I liked how the book also covered the build up with training up to the war.  As many veterans know, the military will always have logistical and supply nightmare and this book tells it as it is with the additional factor of being discriminated upon because the members of the 369th Infantry were Blacks.  From soldiers being beaten up in a town outside of the base they were training in at the south, to the lack of a New York parade send off that their fellow Infantry Regiments in the Division was able to participle in along with working as if they were a “labor battalion” instead of an combat unit in the beginning of the war, these soldiers faced an uphill challenge to prove themselves and when the time for combat came they performed beyond their call of duty and exceeded expectations.  From saving the French lines to being the first Americans to reach the Rhine, this Graphic Novel told their story well. Readers should not miss the author’s note towards the end of the book explaining the author’s attempt to put this story into film and the lack of interests from the film industry.  The end of the book also feature historical notes which shows us that much historical materials have shaped the Graphic Novel especially with the characters.  I thought the most interesting part here was how one of the character in the book was based upon the reality of a full blooded Zulu who did served in the US Army during the war. Purchase: Amazon

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Traces of the Trinity Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience by Peter J Leithart

 Peter Leithart. Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience.  Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Publishing Group, March 17th, 2015. 176 pp.

While the title of the book is “Traces of the Trinity,” this book is not so much about the Trinity per se as it is on the Trinitarian doctrine of perichoresis (the persons of the Trinity are mutually dwelling among each other while still remaining distinct persons).  To be even more specific the author Peter Leithart is not merely examining the doctrine of perichoresis but an exploration of how there are traces of analogous “indwelling” found within God’s creation and creatures; and that we best account for these phenomenon in God’s creation and creatures from a Trinitarian worldview.  I found this a surprisingly delightful read and in agreement with the thesis of the book.

Leithart is a professor of literature and his literary abilities shows.  Readers won’t be bored with what he has to say.  His witty manner of writing along with his wordsmith that paints powerful word pictures is similar to C.S. Lewis or Chesterton.  I would also add that I am aware of concerns for the author’s theology in other areas and in particular with his soteriology and association with Federal Vision.  I suppose my comparison of Leithart to Lewis and Chesteron does not end with their wonderful ability to write but also as writers whom I read for their keen insights while also realizing I need to be doctrinally discerning.

While this book is an exercise of applying a Trinitarian worldview, I did not expect that Leithart would be able to beautifully present his case in the manner that he did.  This book is not a dry account of the Trinity nor is it the typical Van Tillian rehearsed presentation of the problem of the “One and the Many.”  I imagine Leithart is familiar with the Van Tillian Trinitarian project given how he’s well read, is conversant with Reformed Theology and have endnotes citing John Frame and his perspectivalism.  Yet Leithart’s discussion of Trinitarian worldview accounting for our reality has an originality that has a rhetorical beauty about it.

I was hooked right away with the first chapter with how Leithart tackles Cartesian dualism and refutes Descartes’ notion that the self is totally separated from the world which is so common of an assumption today since modernity (and post-modernity).  Leithart makes the powerful observation that the individual thinking person (the self) is inter-connected with the world and vice versa.  I love the book’s illustration about the windo having certain properities and yet it can’t be a window in its essence if it in not standing in relations to other things in the world such as a house and the outside world.  The author notes the same thing is true with coffee cup and even the self.  We as humans are in physical bodies which require the outside world such as food, oxygen, etc and thus the world indwell within the self while the self is also in the world.  Leithart then moves on to make an analogous observation of this mutual indwelling with thought and the world as well (thought require content of the outside world, etc).

In a similar fashion, Leithart also has a wonderful discussion about the problem of the tension between the ultimacy of either the individual versus society, political and economic versus sociology.  It was a bit remincient of Rushdoony’s Trinitarian work The One and the Many which he applies the Trinity as a solution to the philosophical problem of the One and the Many largely in its application to politics and history.  But Leithart does it in a more concise manner.  He also refutes Hobbes and Locke in a way that I found refreshing and different!

Leithart’s observation of the Trinitarian traces of indwelling also looks at love, time, philosophy of language, music, ethics, and rationality.  In the final chapter he ties all the loose ends by a fuller discussion of the Trinity.  His postscript in which he deals with objection against his argument must also not be missed.  No doubt some might be reading this review and ask if Leithart’s thesis is sustainable in light of the difference of the Triune God from His creation and creatures.  Leithart acknowledges the need to preserve the doctrine of Creator/creature distinction but also not the importance of understanding God’s creation accurately along with the importance of understanding the doctrine of analogy (in the Van Tillian sense).  He doesn’t just make philosophical moves and over-reach with the use of biblical analogies but instead notes the Scripture does appeal to the Intra-Trinitarian relationships to apply something to God’s creature or creation.

I do recommend the book.  Even among all the books out there in recent years with an Evangelical revival of Trinitarian theology, this book does have something refreshing to say.  Again, when I recommend this book I recommend it with the same spirit I recommend people the works of Chesterton: read with doctrinal and biblical discernment.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Brazos Publishing Group and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Amazon

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Note: We review this book in light of the rising anti-Semitism in some part of the World in our day and age.  Also, it is part of our .The Plot The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion Will Eisner

Will Eisner. The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  New York, NY:
W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 142 pp.

This is the last work of the famous cartoonist Will Eisner.  What this work is about is no laughing matter and is more a tragedy than a comic, as the forward mentioned.  This graphic novel is about an alleged secret document that supposedly proved a secret agenda and plan by Jewish leaders to take over the world.  This document, called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has been perpetuated for decades by various group of people with varying agendas but whom all unite under the banner of anti-Semitism.  Although repeatedly proven as a fraud in scholarly sources unfortunately a lot of these evidences against the document have been as accessible for most common people.  This Graphic Novel is Eisner’s contribution to combat against the propaganda.  I think Eisner understood the power of the medium in reaching the masses through Graphic Novel which is more mainstream for our society than academic works.  And yet as the Graphic Novel approaches the end Eisner himself shows his awareness that some will be convinced no matter what the evidence is because they have already made up their mind as to what to believe.

Through this book I learned that Mathieu Golovinski was the source of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Golovinski was a Russian forger and plagiarizer working for the Russian Secret Police.  He has spent a portion of his childhood in France and was thus an asset for the Russians to use to try to doctor a false document that allegedly showed a plot of Jews wanting to take over the world.  This was originally planted in French newspaper and then used by Golovinski handlers to pressure the Tsar of Russia against modernizing policies.  Unfortunately The Protocols went on to have a larger life of its own.

Golovniski plagiarized heavily from a French writer name Marcie Joly who wrote a book titled The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu that was originally a literary piece critical of Napoleon.   I appreciate that though this is a Graphic Novel it was serious enough of a topic that Eisner presented a side by side comparision between the works for the readers to come to their own conclusion that The Protocols was plagerized.  I appreciated the fact that this Graphic Novel had “end notes” to show where one can find the original source of the quotation!

This Graphic Novel tells the story of how a Russian séances name Sergius Nilus who was a competitor to Rasputin published in his books The Protocol to attack the Jews. This helped spread the malicious use of The Protocol.  The book also show how the Nazis, the Soviets, the Klu Klux Klan, Marxists and Islamists also published the Protocol as being true even though it has been continuously refuted.  In terms of the history of the document being debunked it began with a British foreign correspondent name Philip Graves when he was working at Constantinople in 1921 for “The Times” of London.  Graves was sold a copy of The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu by a Russian Émigré who pointed out to him that The Protocol was a plagiary.  Graves published his finding in the newspaper and also had the book authenticated and compared to other copies.  As decades went on more problems were pointed out by others concerning the document.  The Graphic Novel also show the author Will Eisner going about researching on The Protocol.

I enjoyed the graphic novel very much and found the introduction and afterwards helpful.  The introduction was written by Umberto Eco who have written as a scholar exposing The Protocol, specifically with how it has stolen ideas from Eugene Sue’s Le Juif Errant that tells of the Jesuits plans and agenda.  Stephen Eric Bronner, a political scientist at Rutgers also wrote the afterwards.  It was helpful to see that the book also have a bibliography for further research; and I plan to study more on this topic in the near future.

Purchase: Amazon

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Van Til Defender of the Faith An Authorized Biography

William White. Van Til, Defender of the Faith.  Nashville, TN:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1979. 233 pp.

The work is primarily a brief biographical sketch of the life of Cornelius Van Til. It is good sometimes for serious disciples of Van Til’s apologetics or those curious to know the background of Van Til’s life and the historical development that led to Van Til’s ideas. Reading this book, one can not help but to think about the soverignty of God as He orchestrated the timing of various Dutch Reformed thinkers who shaped Van Til, and events leading to the founding of Westminster Seminary. The book was not intended to be read as a robust defense of Van Tillian apologetics, but rather as a biography laced with sentimental values antidotes.  However, the two appendix in the book features a good summary outline by Van Til himself of his apologetics, and a paper he delivered that expouse his ideas. Those who are out looking for Van Til’s ideas will find the two appendix to be precious gems.

I must add though that John Frame think this book is rather simplistic concerning its treatment of Van Til’s ideas.  Since it has been a long time since I read this book (I’m posting this review up because it’s been sitting for years on draft) Frame might be right.  This was one of the first biography of Van Til written and since this work was published another one put out by Presbyterian and Reformed has provided a more scholarly biography of him by a capable historian of the OPC.  Nevertheless, I did enjoyed this biography as well for its personal flavor.

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John Frame Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two

 John M. Frame. Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two.  Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2015. 382 pp.

This book is the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings that contains some of John Frame’s essays that are outside of his Theology of Lordship SeriesI have previously reviewed volume one of Dr. Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Although I highly recommend both volumes I actually enjoyed volume two more in comparison with volume one.  As usual with John Frame’s writings, I appreciate what he has to say since he makes me think more deeply about the inter-connectedness of Biblical doctrines, theological foci and various method and divisions of theology and philosophy.  Readers will not be disappointed.  Frame’s characteristic way of writing that stresses the authority of Scripture, his exploration of the inter-dependence and inter-connectedness of perspectives along with his straight forward and clear way of writing is evident throughout the book.

The book is divided into seven parts: There are miscellaneous theological topics, theological education, theological method, apologetics, ethics, the church and a personal section.  All seven parts of the book contained essays which were very stimulating and eye-opening.  I have read thousands of pages of Frame’s work and I found that there were still things I learned from reading this book.  Anyone who thinks a book titled “Selected Shorter Writings” means that this is a stale collection of ad hoc old ideas is badly mistaken.  I was highlighting a lot of materials as I was reading through it.  In what follows I want to share some of what I appreciated from the book.

PART 1: Theological Topics

  • I appreciated the first chapter of the book that was adapted from Frame’s ETS presentation in which he talked about inerrancy and how Evangelicals must not be naïve to think that the question of inerrancy can be resolved with liberals and non-believers by simply talking about facts since methods and presuppositions are important.  Using Alvin Plantinga’s famous essay on the role of Christian philosophers’ project being for the Christian community rather than just appeasing the secular academic world, Frame also calls Christian scholars to embrace inerrancy “as a place to live” in one’s academic career.
  • Concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology I thought chapter five presented the most succinct presentation of the Van Tillian perspective: theology and philosophy need each other, theology and philosophy are similar although it uses different language and terminology to describe the world and the nature of ultimate reality and of course there is a need for philosophy needs to examine itself from a biblical theological perspective, etc.

PART 2: Theological Education

  • The first three chapters in this section comes from the first three chapters of his book titled The Academic Captivity of Theology and Other Essays, published by Whitefield Publishers.  This is one of Frame’s lesser known work but after reading these chapters I admit I want to read the rest of the book to see Frame further articulate his distinct philosophy of theological education.  He has a lot to say that those involve in leadership of Christian institute of higher education needs to hear.  He has a good point concerning the problem of Evangelicals idolatrously seeking doctorate programs in schools that does not honor God’s Word.  I thought it was fascinating that he noted how in the past famous Christian scholars such as Machen and Warfield did not have earned doctorates but were nevertheless highly effective with their masters’ degree.  Frame also talked about seminary desire for academic respectability from the world sets it in conflict with its aim to train men for the ministry at the church.  He argues that in the end it is the church who has the authority to evaluate the means and goals of a seminary and not a secular accreditation agency.  Accreditation agencies often making a seminary do more unnecessary and unhelpful work in order to be accredited.  There is so much more than I can summarize here in this review.
  • His essay on the demise of systematic theology also demonstrated the difference between a liberal philosophy of education and the biblical aim of seminary education.  A doctorate in systematic theology at centers that does not have a high view of Scripture would only teach guys to teach theology that becomes more of a kind of historical theology that only states what other scholars believe; but this kind of method is inadequate in an Evangelical seminary where the skill requires is finding out what the Word of God says about a respective subject.

PART 3: Theological Method

  • The chapter “Arguments and Conclusion in Theology” is partly in response to WSC and those who advocate “Escondido Theology.”  However it’s usefulness extends beyond the debate of Radical Two Kingdom Theology.  Frame rightly point out that some systematic theologians today are weak in logical thinking.  Case in point: Those whom Frame critiques in his book Escondido Theology responded to Frame’s book by denying the conclusion of Frame’s argument.  But the critics have not interacted with Frame’s actual argument that lead to his conclusion.  It is not enough to say one does not like the conclusion but one must also demonstrate why the argument does not lead to the conclusion.

PART 4: Apologetics

  • This was by far the longest part of the book!  It is also the section of the book that demonstrate Frame at his best!
  • I appreciated that Frame in his opening chapter to the section looked to the Scripture first concerning why it is hard to believe in God and at the same time why it is easy to believe in God.  A good editorial decision that lays the foundation before the other chapters look at some intense apologetics’ matters.
  • Chapters 19-22 were on Van Til.  Some of these were short summaries of Van Til but then you also have chapter 21 titled “Van Til: The Theologian.”  This chapter was originally published years ago as a pamphlet and also as a chapter in a Festschrift for Van Til that was published by theonomists in the 1970s.  When I read this essay many years ago it totally revolutionize my own theological method and how I looked at theology so it was refreshing to re-read this essay again now that I am older.  “Van Til: The Theologian” was what got me going with teaching systematic theology in such a way as to try to portray how doctrines from Scripture beautifully integrate and mutually support one another.  This essay has ever since moved me to doxological fervor in teaching the inter-connectedness of theology in order to deepen our worship and further a coherent apologetics by showing how a truly Biblical system of theology have doctrines “cohere” with one another while also maturely handle theological paradox.

PART 5: Ethics

  • His chapter on the failure of non-Christian ethics is a very good summary of the problem of trying to ground morals and ethics apart from the Christian God.  Excellent!  It is worth reviewing from time to time.
  • I must say though that the weakest chapter of the book was found here:  Frame sees Joel Osteen as less of a problem than I would like and I wish Frame could have considered the question as to what Osteen believes concerning the role of repentance and the Gospel.
  • “But God Made Me This Way” is a neat chapter and very relevant in light of the advancing agenda of homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage in today’s culture.  Good response.

PART 6: The Church

  • Good discussion about the problems of denomination and also church unity.

PART 7: Personal

  • A light hearted chapter on Frame’s Triperspectivalism applied to the issue of eating and dieting.

Again there is more to the book than my highlights mentioned here.

After finishing the book I’m convinced that this book is useful for Christians across all spectrum of theology and familiarity with the John Frame.  I think the nature of short essays make it helpful as an introduction to those who are new to John Frame’s work.  The book also has a “theological devotional” flavor to it that makes a wonderful read for those who want something to stimulate their minds more deeply in terms of devotional materials.  I believe it would make a wonderful “devotional” for the theologian in which one can read a chapter a day (give or take for the longer ones) where one has something theological that is God-centered at the same time it exercises one’s mind to love God’s truth (that was practically how I did read this book).  For those who consider themselves “John Frame buff” or experts of his theology, this book is still worthwhile to purchase the book as there are still things in this book that I think is new to chew on.  It also serves as a good refresher to Frame’s Theology of Lordship.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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Operation Nemesis bogosian

Eric Bogosian. Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide.  New York, NY:
Little, Brown and Company, April 21st, 2015. 384 pp.

This is a fascinating book that was timely published the same year as the Centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide.  I know so little about the Genocide myself and I think most Americans are in the same boat.  This book tells the story of a small group of Armenians after the Genocide who secretly planned and carried out assassination of key Turkish leaders who orchestrated the genocide.  I was surprised that such an interesting story has received so little attention!  I felt it was like a real life early twentieth century version of Jason Bourne.  The story is incredible enough that after finishing the book I hunger to read more on Operation Nemesis.  I think if they made a film of this story it would be a blockbuster.

This book was helpful in providing the background of the Armenian genocide itself.  I think it was wise that the author did that given how most readers know little much of Turkish murder of Armenians.  It was emotional for me to see the account of how innocent women and children were deceptively led on a caravan to be murdered.  It was very hard to go through this portion of the book.  I don’t even know how the Armenians are still around with the way the Turks systematically went about killing Armenians.  It is nothing short of a miracle from God.

Through this book I learned about a group who called itself the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) which was a group of politically radical Armenians that came about in the late 1800s.  After World War one was over they were the ones who set in motion Operation Nemesis.  Much of the book focused on the first mission of Operation Nemesis.  Their target was Mehmed Talaat Pasha who was one of three de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire who had escaped from the Allies and was in not so secret hiding in Germany.  Although he was found guilty and sentenced to death in absentia, German officials failed to work with the Allies to have him handed over even though British Intelligence knew exactly where Pasha was.  Strangely enough, they did not share this information to the Armenians for a variety of reasons.  The book also gives a surprising amount of biographical information of the Assassin named Soghomon Tehlirian.  He was an Armenian who lost his family from the genocide while he was away serving in the Russian Army against the Ottomans.  Through this book I learned that the ARF also wanted to exploit the assassination strategically to bring international attention to the Armenian genocide.  Tehlirian was to deliberately stay in the premise after his killing in order to be arrested and hopefully share his testimony of his life.  I learned from this book that Tehlirian fabricated a lot of lies in his account and the court including the Judge went easy on him and in the end it became more of a trial of Pasha than it was for his murderer.  There was a lot of sympathies from the international press as well for Tehlirian in light of the context of the genocide that he was a victim of.

This book in the end was not just an account of history a hundred years ago.  One of the more chilling part of the books is the ending in which the author gives us an account as to how far the Turkish government is willing to go to cover up the Genocide.  It ranges from keeping government archives closed to researchers, outlandish lies and even changing the whole Turkish alphabet and written language as to make reading and translation of pre-World War One document difficult for most Turkish researchers.  Over all a good book that I highly recommend.

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