Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: The God Pocket by Bruce Wilkinson

The God Pocket: He owns it. You carry it. Suddenly, everything changes.The God Pocket: He owns it. You carry it. Suddenly, everything changes. by Bruce Wilkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary: Bruce Wilkinson says that you should carry around a certain amount of money, a "God pocket", as it were, with the intention of giving it away whenever and wherever God leads you to do so.

Review: This is a short book, nonetheless my review will not be appropriately short.

Strengths: Wilkinson is an engaging and clear writer. His prose moves quickly and he tells stories well when giving examples. The whole book could be read in a single sitting without much difficulty.

Also, Wilkinson's call to generosity is an important one for Christians, especially for American Christians who have sufficient material wealth to actually be generous. The idea that we should be prepared to be generous at any time and any place is also a good one, as is the idea that such generosity should be both personal (rather than the more distant methods such as electronically sending a check once a month) and directed towards God as the source of the gift. Not, of course, to say that we can't give in other ways too (tithing electronically might be the best way to make sure that it happens regularly), but that this additional giving should be a regular part of our lives.

Weaknesses: For all its strengths, this is not a book I'd recommend a Christian read about giving (it still gets 3 stars because I have a rock-solid rule that if a book is well-written, it gets 3 stars however terrible it might be otherwise).

First, Wilkinson is far too reliant on the idea of inspiration. The "God pocket" is to be given according to the "God nudge", which is God telling you to give away the God pocket. What is a "God nudge"? It's the internal, unexpected, uncomfortable, and "subtle but clear" feeling that you should give away your God pocket (46-47). The "God nudge" is confirmed by the external "cue" and the "bump", the former of which is a sign from the other person that they actually need the money in your God pocket, and the bump is a question you ask them to make sure (48-49). The problem of course is that there is no Biblical evidence that God works this way. God's primary direction to us is found in His Word, not in an inner voice. We are of course commanded to give, and we have some discretion concerning whom we give to (so long as we're caring for our families and giving to the church), but the claim "God told me to do X" is always a dangerous road to walk.

Second, the examples Wilkinson uses are, well, problematic at best. The spectrum ranges from "person A needed money desperately and person B gave them their God pocket just in time and they both praised God" to "person A needed money desperately and person B gave them their God pocket just in time and person A became a Christian and they both praised God." Granted, Wilkinson (I think) lives in South Carolina, where cultural Christianity might still have something of a toehold and "praise God" might come more naturally, but the bulk of people Christians are going to run into around the country are going to be the homeless, the mentally disturbed, the rude, the crotchety, the loud and obnoxious, and so on. We should as Christians be prepared to give despite the response of the recipient, not in anticipation of a postiive one.

Third, Wilkinson dances around the idea that if you give your money away, God will give it back to you with interest. He does admit that the ultimate repayment will come in heaven (93), so he can't be classed completely with the prosperity gospel crowd. Nevertheless there's a consistent tone that "most people I've met who practice the God Pocket become more enthusiastic givers through their local churches- and with more funds to give."(99) This forgets that the only promises God gives us concerning life in this world are that 1) it's temporary; and 2) it's full of suffering. There is no discussion that God very well might not return His money, and that giving should be done even through suffering, poverty, disease, war, and every other kind of destitution imaginable.

Finally, and most important: there is no Gospel in this book. The other weaknesses could be forgiven if the Gospel were shared as the center of the idea. Our being sinners who deserve Hell, and the mercy of God in rescuing us from Hell by sending Christ to give up His life in our place, these central doctrines of Christianity make no appearance anywhere in the 124 pages of the book. Consequently, this is fundamentally not a Christian book and I cannot in good conscience endorse it as such. To tell people that Christians ought to give without mentioning that we give because God first gave us salvation, and that our generosity is overflow from the generosity God has shown us on the cross, is merely to create a legalistic feel-good theology that doesn't address the true problem of the human condition: that of sin. While I am sure that Wilkinson is personally a Christian, that fact seems not to have affected his "God Pocket" idea in this little book.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Fear and Trembling/Repetition by Soren Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, Volume 6)Fear and Trembling/Repetition by Søren Kierkegaard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, after being assigned this book in a class on German Idealism several years ago (three or four, I forget which), I finally got around to finishing it. In my defense, at the time I had just finished comps and this was the last book in the class and, well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

This is a compilation of two books: Fear and Trembling and Repetition. Fear and Trembling engages the question of the nature of faith using the example of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Kirkegaard points out that Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac was, from Abraham's perspective, at best irrational and at worst wicked, but faith is embracing the irrational and (seemingly) wicked with joy. The reward of faith is that Abraham recieved back Isaac not in the way he had expected (through resurrection), but in a way infinitely better than he could have imagined.

The main strength of this book is Kierkegaard's thoughtful and thorough analysis of the irrational component of faith. Many Christians (and certainly many non-Christians) feel that there is something contrary to the way the world works in Christianity, and Kierkegaard explores this in a way that offers an answer which does not sacrifice the totality of the Christian message in the same way that liberal Christianity does when engaging the same questions.

The weakness of the book is fairly obvious. With all due respect to my existentialist brothers and sisters, "mystery" is not "irrationality." There is something mysterious in Christianity, there are elements which transcend our limited reason and worldviews and draw the eyes and the mind heavenward. But to say that these elements are irrationaly, even from our own perspective, is a dangerous road to walk (Kant makes the same mistake). I realize that this is often offered as an apologetic ("you just have to believe, even if it doesn't make sense), but the fact remains that Christianity is ultimately a mystery, Christianity is a historical message of the good news of the salvation that Jesus Christ has worked on the cross. This is not irrational and requires no leap of faith (Kierkegaard never talks about a "blind" leap), it requires conversion.

Repetition is the story of a young man in love and his attempts to recapture the first feelings of love. By extension (implicit at first, and then explicit), this is a discussion of religion and that initial burst of joy which one experiences on conversion, and the continued attempts thereafter to recapture that initial transcendent experience. "Can this experience be repeated?" is the central question of the book, and one which you'll have to read for yourself to get the answer.

I appreciated this work much more than Fear and Trembling, possibly because of the narrative structure, but mostly because I enjoyed the topic quite a lot more. The question of the transient and the eternal is an interesting one philosophically, and one I hope to pursue in future study.

Overall, these are worth a read, even if only to see what all the fuss is about.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Digitizing Books in the 21st Century

What I know about electronics, technology, and the Internet (despite having a blog, a Facebook account, and email) could fit in a short pamphet, with lots of room for pictures. It turns out, however, that I have actually been digitizing books like a mad man. And so have you.

HT: Kim Riddlebarger

Friday, September 16, 2011

The 10 Most Hated Jobs

Interestingly, none of the 10 most hated jobs are manual labor, and only a couple are even close to what could be considered "blue collar." Clearly, manual laborers aren't smart enough to know that they should be miserable...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review: The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

The Grace of GodThe Grace of God by Andy Stanley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stanley's book is structured Biblically, that is, he starts with Genesis and works through Acts. Well, technically, he ends with his own church in Atlanta, but more on that in a bit. Most of the focus of the book is on the grace of God in the Old Testament (the first eight chapters deal with Old Testament events and characters, while the last five deal with the New Testament and the church since then). The main point of the book is that the grace of God is freely given, with absolutely no requirements being placed on us. Forgiveness is unconditional and is not tied to our obedience. Stanley notes that it is this characteristic which makes Christianity unique amongst world religions, and which is ultimately the heart of the Christian Gospel. As Stanley says, grace is the idea that "eternal life isn't a reward for good people, it's God's gift to forgiven people." (163).


-Stylistically, Stanley is a clear writer, with decent prose and a solid grasp of the Bible. His writing flows well and forms a quick read, without much slipping through the cracks.

-The book itself is formatted well, with lots of breaks and white space, and key sentences in bold print.

-Stanley does a good job working through some difficult texts, especially in the Old Testament. He is especially deft at encouraging reflection about the sheer goodness of grace.

-The book is short, but still full and thought-provoking (unlike some of Stanley's other works...).


-At times, Stanley gives too much of a gloss to difficult passages. While this can be a useful way to avoid problems, it can also lead to ignoring important Biblical truths.

-Stanley, despite his decent prose overall, at times can be thoughtless in how he phrases things, to the point of wandering on the edge of dangerous theology. The best example of this is how he ends the book, a line which I found especially disappointing, given the overall strength of the book doctrinally up until then:
In God's story, you are the focus of a celebration. Not what you've done. You.
After 200 pages of emphasizing how it is not about us, Stanley ends on a stinker like that. We are most certainly not the point of the story, God is.

-Stanley spends more time than he should defending his own church as a pillar of grace in Atlanta (not in any way that can be accused of pride, he's fairly humble about it). Of course grace does apply to the modern world and to churches today, but it's a bit... off... to structure your book in the format: Chapter 1: Bible story; Chapter 2: Bible story; Chapter 3: Bible story;... Chapter 13: Bible story and my church. Not maybe technically wrong, but perhaps best left to others to do.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book either to new Christians or to Christians who have recently begun to think about grace. However, I'd also recommend that this be merely a starting point, and that after reading this, you move on to books that delve a bit deeper into the doctrines of grace. Which I won't mention here, since this is a review for a publisher and I suspect that the good folks over at Thomas Nelson would not appreciate me plugging books from the competition.

Speaking of which,

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

The Realms ThereunderThe Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Have you ever been so wrapped up in a historical period, that you wish you could have lived there? I think that's what happened to Ross Lawhead: at some point, he started studying early Medieval England and thought to himself "gosh, I wish there were still knights and monsters and magic and adventure today." And then he wrote a book about all of those things existing.

At least, I assume that's what happened, because that's what The Realms Thereunder is: a ~400 page story about two people discovering that there are still knights fighting evil in England. I'm not going to say why, because that's not actually very relevant to the book. In fact, this book really seems like nothing more than a lead-up to the book that Ross Lawhead really wants to write, which presumably will be the next one in the series.

So, some strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Strengths: Ross Lawhead clearly has great potential as a writer. His prose flows well, and he is excellent at blending action and dialogue, often in fairly unique ways. Moreover, he manages to work in his worldview in a way that blends well with the story and isn't at all preachy. Apparently, this is part of a trilogy (at least, that's what the front cover says), and book one makes you want to know what happens next.

Weaknesses: Ross Lawhead isn't terribly original. This book is really just a combination of several different fantasy ideas (even horcruxes make an appearance). Even more than that, his characters are wooden, and he occasionally forgets (or ignores) the backstory he's built up for them. For example, the first few chapters focus on the clinical OCD of one of the main characters, which then disappears through the rest of the book. I don't want to be too harsh, since he seems to be a young-ish writer (even with a great writer like Stephen Lawhead for a father, it takes time to grow those sorts of skills), but he definitely needs to up his game a bit if he's going to be writing 1,000 page trilogies dealing with the weighty issues he's raised in this book.

Also, and this is more of an editorial criticism, this book really needed another once-over. Spelling, word usages, grammar, and even occasionally mixing up characters definitely distract from the reading of this book.

Overall, it's a readable book, and I will likely pick up the next in the series just to find out what happens (especially if I get it for free to review... hint hint). Even more than that, I look forward to seeing Ross Lawhead develop as a writer so he can get down to the business of cranking out five-star material...

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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