Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: The Canary List by Sigmund Brouwer

The Canary List: A NovelThe Canary List: A Novel by Sigmund Brouwer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is there a Witch-Vatican-genetic freak conspiracy out there? According to this book, yes. And, well, that's about it. With a solid start and a weak finish, The Canary List is middlin' at best. (Why three stars then? Because it was well-ish written, and that gets three stars, no matter what.) I happen to think conspiracy theory books have to be exceptionally well written, otherwise the author comes off looking like a kook, and often drags the reader with him. This book is just well enough written not to drag the reader down, and leave us questioning the author.

And, well, I can't say much else without giving away key plot points, so I won't. If you like conspiracy theories and don't much care for the Vatican, this book is for you. It's well enough written to carry you along. If you don't, you probably won't.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Clearly, they did not pay me to write a good one.

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Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life TogetherReal Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark Driscoll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've totally been putting off this book review, since frankly I'm still not sure how I feel about it. But, here goes...

First, the basics: this is a book about marriage. Real Marriage, not that fake stuff you see on TV. And, apparently, not that fake stuff you read about in most Christian books either. At least, so the back of the book claims. "This is not", we are assured in letters that are both bold and italicized, "one of those books" that "assume the author did it right", "barely mention friendship", or "use 'intimacy' as code for 'sex.'" In reality, much of this book is pretty much the straight-forward Evangelical line on marriage. Which is not to say that it's not a useful or important book, just that there's nothing revolutionary in it. Of course, if there were something revolutionary in it, that would be a problem in itself, since Christians really aren't supposed to be believing "new" things...

The Driscolls break the book into three sections: Marriage (five chapters, a little under a hundred pages); Sex (five chapters, a little over a hundred pages); and "The Last Day" (one chapter, about thirteen pages of questions and hints intended to help guide couples in examining and directing their marriage). I'll treat each section in turn.

The Marriage section is the one that has been getting the most praise out there amongst the reviewers, largely because the Driscolls talk about the importance of friendship in marriage. This is not something Christian books on marriage tend to do, mostly because "friendship" is not something the Bible generally talks about as relating to marriage. Which, for that matter, suggests that it's perhaps less important in the grand scheme of things. You CAN be married without necessarily being the best of friends, and even have a good marriage in doing so. Nonetheless, I think it is interesting and useful to have someone at least begin to think through the place of friendship in marriage. This section is also where the bulk of the Driscolls' story is shared, which contains a lot of fairly intimate details about struggles they have had in their relationship, both before and after marriage.

The section that has been getting the most flak is, of course, the Sex section. "Wait, what? A 'sex' section? Did Mark Driscoll really make a public statement about sex? That doesn't seem like him at all. He's usually so reserved and prudish."

By and large, this section is fine. Most of what they have to say is not only fairly standard, but has been said repeatedly even in Evangelical works like "Intended for Pleasure" or "Sheet Music." Where the Driscolls has received some mild-to-severe rebuke is specifically concerning the chapter "Can We _____", in which they proceed to discuss the various sexual alternatives and their morality. The metehod they employ is that of asking three questions: 1. Is it lawful? (the answer is usually "yes"); 2. Is it helpful? (the answer usually depends on circumstance); 3. Is it enslaving? (if the answer is "no", knock yourself out; if "yes", then, well, that provides the answer to the first two questions). And if you want to know more about this section, read it yourself.

The third section is the shortest and has been mostly overlooked in the reviews, yet I think it is likely the most important one. Whether or not one agrees with the first two sections, there are some good, practical questions here across a broad spectrum of topics that frankly could provide years of thought and conversation to a couple seriously dedicated to improving their marriage. Of course, by the time you actually get to this chapter after wading through all the friendship, marriage, and sex it's likely you'll be too exhausted to effectively analyze anything...

Okay, that's the summary. So what do I think of the book? Well, I still don't know. I will say that a major gap in the material is that in a whole book on marriage, children are not mentioned at all. Granted, it's a book on "marriage" and not "parenting." And of course these days you can't assume that marriage=children (or vice versa). Nonetheless, that's seemingly a topic that shouldn't be ignored.

Beyond that, I'm not sure that I agree with most of the criticisms that have been leveled against the Driscolls. The two big ones are 1) you're revealing far too much of your own married life (they use their own marriage mostly as examples of what NOT to do), and potentially sinning against your own wife in doing so; and 2) this material is best handled in private, not in a public forum like a book. I think I would suggest that 1) presumably he and his wife discussed this and agreed on how much of their intimate life was appropriate for public consumption, especially since she co-wrote the darn thing. 2) I know of no Biblical injunction against discussing sex in public, and frankly our society could use some truth out there amidst all the cultural messages being sent.

Having said both of those things, I think the main utility of Driscoll's book is that it raises good questions and stimulates good conversation. I would love to see this book written by a better writer who is less of a bomb thrower and more of a thoughtful theologian. I don't know who specifically, but, you know, someone.

I received this book free from Booksneeze on the condition that I review it, but they have yet to try to bribe me to write a good review.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Hope for the Church

Believe, that how low soever the church be plunged under the waters of adversity, it shall assuredly rise again. Fear not, for as sure as Christ arose on the third day, notwithstanding the seal and watch that were upon him; so sure the church shall arise out of all her troubles, and lift up its victorious head over all its enemies: there is no fear of ruining that people who thrive by their losses, and multiply by being diminished. O be not too quick to bury the church before she is dead! stay till Christ hath tried his skill, before you give it up for lost. The bush may be all in a flame, but shall never be consumed, and that because of the good will of him that dwelleth in it.
-John Flavel, A Saint Indeed, (Works of Flavel, vol. 5) 449.

The role of Faith in the Christian Life

[Paul] places faith in the foreground, and puts it before other spiritual gifts, because it is in its nature prior to the rest. For it is the foundation and root of godliness and religion; it is the gate of life, through which God first enters into the human mind; it is the basis of the spiritual building. For as in the creation light preceded the other creatures; for God said, Let there be light, and there was light on the first day: so in the work of regeneration, God says, Let there be the light of faith, and it first shines in the mind, then the other virtues follow.  The very first approach to God is made through faith, Heb. xi. 6. The first purification of the human heart is effected by faith, Acts xv. 9.
-John Davenant, Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians,  59-60.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Apologies for the Delay

Under Construction

There have been and will continue to be delays on this whole "blogging" thing, largely because I now have a formal deadline (end of February-ish) for the dissertation. Which means that all writing energy must be spent on that monstrosity. I'll try to post from time to time, but by and large, I suspect that the blog will suffer the brunt of my distraction...