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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Incognegro

Mat Johnson. Incognegro.  New York, NY: Veritgo Comics, February 6th, 2008. 136 pp.

May there be more graphic novel like this.  Good story, illustrations that’s easy on the eyes, suspenseful with humor that carries the readers along through the dark historical mystery.  The story is situated during a time in American history in which lynching was done in the South.  The graphic novels tells the story of an African American news reporter who is Black but looks white.  He goes down to the South to report on the racist lynching that takes place for his Harlem based newspaper.  The story is loosely based upon real NAACP undercover investigator which made the story even more interesting.  The story has pretty good twists and turns which makes this a great mystery novel.  I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Purchase: Amazon

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Oleg V. Klevniuk. Stalin: New Biography of A Dictator.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, May 19th, 2015. 408 pp.

This is a well done biography of Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1929 to his death in 1953.  Both in the beginning of the book and towards the end the author mentioned how some have recasted Stalin’s legacy for political purposes in Russia and one of the reason why the author wrote this book is to portray Stalin for who he really is historically.  He acknowledges that this will go against the grain for Stalin apologists and those propagating political myths about Stalin and the old USSR.  The author has written and edited works on Stalin before but here he writes for us a one volume book length treatment of Stalin instead of his earlier multiple volumes of translated archived correspondences between Stalin and others.  This new biography is rich with insights from recently opened Soviet archives.  The book is written with meticulous scholarship.  For instance in the first few pages of the first chapter we see the author’s familiarity with the primary sources on Stalin coming to play when he discusses when Stalin was born.  Official Soviet sources states that Stalin was born in 1879 but the book noted how earlier sources such as church birth register and his graduation certificate indicates Stalin was born a year before in 1878.  The author’s critical historian instincts also comes to play when weighing the accounts of witnesses’ memoirs in light of other sources.

I learned a lot about Stalin from this book.  I have always heard about how Stalin became radicalized when he was a young man in seminary and this book certainly gives more details of the radical political ideology that was spreading among his classmates during that time.  I always wondered if it was true that Stalin shook his fist at God or the heaven when he died and the book does mention Stalin’s own daughter’s account thus showing it’s not just Christian urban legend against atheists.

The biggest thing I got from reading this book is the incredible insight the book provides into the ways and mind of a terrible dictator.  How does one stay in power for so long when they are so bad to one’s own people?  It was not easy to read about Stalin’s unwise economic plan to industrialize the USSR at the expense of the peasants which resulted in massive famines.  The book does not sanitize history but shares with the readers the archives in which Stalin knew about the famine and was not willing to stop his agenda of getting rid of private property, forced labors of peasants with no pay and killing and incarcerating peasants to keep them in line.  The author pointed out that a regime like Stalin’s didn’t need to have clock like precision in their centralization in order for it to “work” but it needed to make sure that a constant state of crisis is needed to mobilize his forces to the point of bypassing typical legal methods in order to get results.  Stalin often got his policies implemented with the myth of secret capitalists spies within the USSR that one need to battle which is useful to divert people’s attention from where the actual source of problem is coming from (usually the government and Stalin himself).  Then Stalin would use his secret police as a valuable weapon for his policies to search for these fifth column traitors which conviently got rid of those who pose a threat to Stalin’s reign (peers and rising proteges) and other scapegoats.  It was sad to read about how many people were exiled, shot and imprisoned during Stalin’s reign.  It was also ironic to read of how those in the secret police apparatus that did the dirty work would also themselves end up facing the same thing when Stalin changed the security servies’ leadership or formed another competing agency.  Stalin was a mad and evil man.

I think reading this book is relevant for us today as we still see dictators around the world.  It gives us a window as to how they think and methods used.  Certainly an insightful work in terms of history and concerning man’s ugly nature and condition.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Yale University Press 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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Review: Pride of Baghdad

 

This is part of our “Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics Series.

Pride of Baghdad

Brian K. Vaughan. Pride of Baghdad.  New York, NY: Veritgo Comics, September 13th, 2006. 136 pp.

I started reading this work because it was on two lists over at Goodreads: “History through graphic novels,” and “Best Graphic Novels.”  I didn’t think of the work highly nor is this work necessarily as historical as I would have liked it.  This story is situated during 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq and tells the story of lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo.  Something like that did happened but the author and illustrator used the lions and other talking animals as part of an anthropomorphic tale about the nature of freedom and security.  It is a crude tale about violence, desires and deception in a dog eat dog world.  I was left deeply unsatisfied that the graphic novel presented various aspect of what people consider freedom but nothing definitive was ever the outcome.  I can appreciate work that realize there’s no easy answer but I felt it gave the readers a mere tease.  I don’t recommend this book.

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Unchristian by David Kinnaman Gabe Lyons

 

David Kinnaman.  Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, October 1st, 2007. 255 pp.

When I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure what the direction of the book would be.  Was this going to be another book from a Millennial who was going to compromise the Christian faith while it talks about statistics that demonstrate that Christianity has a PR problem today?  Was this going to be written from the perspective of being man-centerd in which the author was going to address problems with some kind of pragmatic gimmick instead of a solution that was biblically driven?  I must say that I was glad to see that the author lived up to being an Evangelical and even said in the book that one cannot compromise clear biblical conviction.  I would also say that at times the solutions he proposes is very good and something I resonate strongly with especially his discussion about the need to genuinely love the non-Christian and homosexuals and also for Christians to start living like Christians in light of God’s grace.  Even at times when I disagree with him as to what is the main problem I do think his exhortation is edifying.

What the author has found in his studies and surveys is disturbing and some of it cannot be brushed aside.  What stood out strongly for me was his analysis of surveys from Christians themselves and how it reveal that Christians can be just like the World and at times be hypocritical.  I expect non-Christians to get Christians and Christianity wrong.  But to see some of the sad state of affairs from studies directly surveying Christians really made things sobering.

I want to re-iterate again that this book stood out to me as being different than some of the literatures out there (book and non-book forms) which would use such data to call for Christians to forsake biblical truths, with the familiar theological liberal mantra “the Church must change from it’s biblical ways, or die from being no longer relevant.”  I think even if you disagree with the book there is lots to learn from it and I don’t want to take away from this even as I share some of my disagreements with the book in this review.

The author argues that part of the Christian public perceptions problem is that Christians today are too political, anti-homosexual and judgmental.  Often these three complaints come together as a package when it comes to Christians being conservative on social issues.  It’s not that the book argues these aren’t important but the book expressed that Christians have become too focused upon these issues.  The author believes that this bad public perception of Christianity would end up hurting Evangelicalism in the long run and ultimately turn people away from Christianity.  However is this the case?  While the book was published in 2007 there have been other studies and newer studies since that puts some holes to the authors’ thesis.

First off studies have revealed that Conservative Christians are not concerned with only single issues or merely political social issues.  Christians actually give more money and time for other causes more than they do to the social issues that are politically divisive.  Arthur C. Brooks argues that studies have revealed how the factor of being more conservative, religious, and less reliant on the government result in higher rates of giving time and money to both religious and secular cause in his book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.”  In fact, in a May 2015 commentary titled “On conservative religious activism, the numbers speak for themselves” Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan presents presuasive evidence that Evangelical Conservative Christians has done more for the poor and the needy in proportion to social conservative issues.  The good works of Biblical Christians in the areas that non-Christians can agree with is still a strong testimony in light of these findings!

Secondly studies reveal the opposite direction of trajectory than the ones the author predicted concerning Conservative Evangelicals.  According to the book one shouldn’t expect Conservative Evangelicals to make any gains while the more liberal mainline denominations would in light of their stance on social issues.  We see instead the opposite according to a much publicize Pew Forum report in May 2015.  To quote the study directly, “The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching.”

While the book is not without it’s problem I do think it is still helpful to critically read it.

Purchase: Amazon

 

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Our nation experienced a great deal of controversy last Friday from the 5-4 SCOTUS ruling.  A ruling that has shifted the moral trajectory of our nation.  With a shift that is colossal in nature, it will be very important for Christians to give an answer to why we object to all forms of homosexual orientation.  1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (NASB). We also will need to be reminded that as abominable the sin of homosexuality is, the gay community must be a mission field for us.  We will be fighting in all fronts: abortion, Islam, cults, and even gay marriage.  But as I read this book, I can’t help but to think about the author’s love for this community.  How can we not love them?  Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11?  Here it is.  I will also modify some of the fonts so we can be reminded of who we (Christians) were once:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  

Wow, that should change our attitude from being hateful to being loving.  I am not saying to water down the Gospel.  Let the Gospel be the offense because it naturally functions that way to the prideful anyway.  But may we have attitudes of love towards the lost.  I am reminded of my professor’s quote: “When we confuse our mission field as our enemy, the Great Commission is impossible” (Pastor Rick Holland).  That needs to be preached as a reminder to my heart over and over.

In addition, what else can I communicate concerning this book?  It is a simple and very short read.  It covers many of the major points that Christians will need to consider with they are dealing with homosexuals and even those who have stated that they have submitted to Christ as their Lord and Savior, but still at times struggle with same-sex attraction.  How does one deal with that?  How does one counsel someone struggling with SSA?  I believe the author could of been more descriptive concerning the issue of same-sex attraction/desire, which I believe is a sin, but due the size of the book, it may cause one to loose focus on the main points of the book.  Overall, I recommend this book.

BookAMAZON

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This book is well researched. It provides a well balance view on both sides.  The authors are clear with the contents they represent when interacting for example, the different types of homosexual orientation.  For example, it is not only the deeds that are addressed, but also the desire for the same sex which is sinful.  One fascinating study which LGBT will consider antiquated is the civil law that pertains to death penalty for grave sins and the authors addresses it by discussing the role of the civil law.  This well-researched book will help readers, who are seeking to gain a deeper grasp of the issues at hand.

This book is a must read for all Christians who love and care for homosexuals.  It also deals with the discontinuity and continuity of the laws in the Old Testament and its perspective and implications on the high rank-and-file sin of homosexuality.  You will go into a theological excursion of the moral, ceremonial, and the civil law when the authors embark upon the Old Testament.  And it interacts with some of the deceiving tactics of the LGBT’s use of Scripture (eisegesis: imparting their own thoughts into the text). Anyone who twists the Word of God in order to make hard truths palatable to society stand in the hot seat of God’s judgment. In this book, you have examples of two men who are graced and granted by God the gift of teaching in order to smell out twisted thinking that spans categorical fallacies and heresies from not only the LGBT “movement” (a 900 pound gorilla that has a goal to destroy the church), but also those who profess faith in Christ.  The book’s truth claims are not based upon a hot and emotionally imbalanced rhetoric, but substance that has been mined over the years from a stable discipline of studying in the Word of God and its interaction with critical sources.  I would recommend you purchasing this book because it will get you acquainted with the arguments that is swirling around. This book will expose to you the information that is derived from the emotionally and subjective arguments that are based on man-centered theology rather than the serious study of God-honoring exegesis and hermeneutics.   You don’t have to be a Greek scholar, but as Christians, we can’t afford to be sloppy or careless (2 Tim. 2:15) with this issue facing our nation.

I pray that this wonderful resource will provide the gateway for you to learn more about this issue and get more acquainted with the passages that the LGBT twist to their own demise.

Also have a Bible handy because the authors will be interacting extensively with the Book of the Leviticus and the Book of Romans.  The book will also stretch out your understanding of the law of God.  That is a major point of the book when discussing the Book of Leviticus and its implications upon the New Testament text.  I believe you will come out a sharper student of the Word when reading the author’s interaction with the biblical text.

Book: AMAZON

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I’m still posting book reviews from my Memorial Day Weekend.

First Seals The Untold Story of the Forging of America S Most Elite Unit

Patrick K O Donnell.  First Seals: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit.  Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, October 28th, 2014. 320 pp.

The title of the book could be somewhat misleading.  One might think this is a book on the early history of the US Navy SEALs which began its origin with the Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) during World War Two.  Typically most books on the history of the SEALs trace their lineage to the UDTs.  Instead this book focuses the Office of Strategic Services’ Maritime Unit (MU).  After getting over the initial expectation that this was going to be about the SEALs or the UDT the book turned out to be an amazing account of the men and the operations of Maritime Unit that was much ahead in their days of Naval commando operations even compated to their contemporary UDTs with the MU’s advance technological breathing masks, sea-to-land direct actions, parachuting capabilities, support for partisan fighters behind enemy lines, sabotage and advanced reconnaissance.  Like the modern SEALs of today the role of those in the MU were at times blurred from land and sea operations.  This book tells the incredible stories of these men that read like a novel.  The most harrowing account in the book is the story of Navy Lt. Jack Taylor who was captured by the Nazis deep within enemy lines and was sent to a concentration camp.  Taylor was marked for death many times by the Nazis but camp clerks who were made up of prisoners themselves kept on erasing his name and/or going in line ahead of him whenever the Nazis gathered people to be killed.  Many of these European prisoners wanted Taylor to be alive so that America and Western Europe would have an American witness of the Camp’s atrocities and therefore convinced the West that the Holocaust was real.  It made me tear up seeing how those in the Concentration Camp can act almost like animals in survival mode but somehow in the midst of the all the salvage brutality the all too human concern for truth and justice manage to come out.  This is an incredibly good book.

Purchase: Amazon

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