Categotry Archives: Fiction

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Clear Winter Nights, by Trevin Wax, book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Books, Culture, Fiction, Theology, Tags: , , ,

clear winter nights by trevin wax

Trevin has turned his theological interests to fiction writing. His first novel, Clear Winter Nights, is due out in September and already has a significant amount of buzz.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] count myself blessed to be among many who count Trevin Wax a friend. Small in stature but with a giant intellect, Trevin runs Kingdom People, one of the popular blogs at The Gospel Coalition, and serves as the managing editor of The Gospel Project.

clear winter nights by trevin waxHaving already published two books on theology before getting his doctorate, Trevin has turned his theological interests to fiction writing. His first novel, Clear Winter Nights, is due out in September and already has a significant amount of buzz.

One of my favorite authors, Randy Alcorn, had this to say, “Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights is an engaging story about something fresh and vital—the old kind of Christian, transformed by Christ, doing battle with sin, relying on Jesus day after day. The book raises honest questions and offers honest answers based on what’s rock solid, not on our culture’s ever-shifting worldview. I enjoyed the moving relationship between a young man and an old one, with history, heritage, mentoring, and friendship. I found Clear Winter Nights to be warm, compelling, and thought provoking.”

Knowing that I read a fair amount of fiction Trevin asked me to review the first draft and a subsequent draft. He even asked me to help suggest a title. Mine, I report with dismay, was not chosen. I also suggested an alternate opening. His editors rejected it.

I am beginning to see a trend regarding my attempts to be published by a major publishing house. I need better editors.

It should be known that I had a difficult time with this review. I did not like the first draft at all and told Trevin as much. I do not read a lot of Christian fiction for the same reasons many people do not listen to a lot of Christian music. Alcorn and Randall Arthur are notable exceptions. My most consumed fiction authors are John Grisham, Dennis LeHane, Michael Connelly and Stephen Hunter. Other than Grisham these authors return to the same characters over and over, creating broad geographies of backstory and narrative. Stand alone stories have to be off the charts to keep my interest. Trevin’s concern was voiced in a Twitter exchange we had a few weeks ago:

Sub-titled, “A journey into truth, doubt, and what comes after,” the Clear Winter Nights story is a vehicle for addressing faith and doubt. Most of the book is dialogue connected by limited narrative. The dialogue is good. The theology is solid. No Christian should have concerns with reading this book themselves or giving to a friend, believer or no.

The primary characters are Chris and Gil, grandson and grandfather. Chris, who is supposed to be part of a church planting team, is experiencing a crisis of faith that threatens his relationship with his girlfriend, the church planting team and God. During a brief visit to see Gil, who is recovering from a stroke, numerous conversations instigated by both parties help Chris better think through his doubts and his faith.

What I liked about Clear Winter Nights is that it hit a good number of faith issues head on. How Christians should view people who sincerely hold different beliefs, homosexual behavior, forgiveness, reconciliation, sin in the church, and death. Each of these are handled with the grace and wisdom you would hope to find from someone who is writing to instruct rather than condemn.

I also liked the lack of complete resolution. Chris’s story is not neatly bow-tied like the last three minutes of a 30-minute sitcom. Though Chris makes obvious strides toward a recovered faith the reader is left to some wonder.

What I did not like about the book is not that no one got shot, but there is so much dialogue. There is an enormous amount of conversation. When the pinnacle of action is someone slammed a car door and drove off in a huff, my attention will wain. This, however, is a matter of preference in this reader not a fault of the writer. The subject matter is such that I prefer to read in non-fiction.

I do encourage you to check out Clear Winter Nights as the genre is needed. My hope would be that moving forward, Trevin and others like him would push the boundaries of fiction writing well into the non-Christian market. There is little need for vampires to remain atop the sales charts for months on end.

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A review of “Les Miserables” for the non-fan

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Categories: Blog, Books, Featured, Fiction, Humor, Movie Reviews, Theology, Tags: , , ,

Hugh Jackman Isabelle Allen

Since the opening of Les Miserables on Christmas day, I have read no shortage of reviews from the professional critic and lay person alike. People on social media have talked about weeping and wailing, taking boxes of tissue, it being the best movie they have ever seen and the like. Viewers and reviewers seem to fall into one of these categories: 1) those who are admitted fans who think the movie version is the greatest thing ever filmed, 2) those who are admitted fans who think it was ok, but well short of the greatest thing ever filmed, 3) those who are not fans and did not care for it, and 4) those who are not fans and really do not get it.

If you are in the first three groups well and good. In this post I want to address the fourth group because I have sympathy for them. I’m guessing it would be like coming into the 14th episode of the fifth season of Lost or any episode of Dr. Who. Here is a summary that might help if you are unfamiliar with Les Miserables but intend to see the movie.

Hugh Jackman Isabelle Allen

Cosette (Isabelle Allen) and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in the 2012 movie musical Les Miserables


First, the movie is based on the book of the same name. Les Miserables was written by a Frenchman named Victor Hugo who apparently did not have anything else to do other than write for a long, long time, as the book is a million pages long. Several Parisian forests were leveled for its first printing. The story begins after the French Revolution and culminates with the 1832 June Rebellion, neither of which means anything to most Americans. One might as well say the action began during the first phase of the moon and ended during the penguin mating season. Same interest level, same knowledge level.

It is estimated that only five people have ever read Les Mis in its entirety. It is the literary equivalent of a Claxton fruitcake. One of the five is Trevin Wax. Two of the others are Alain Boubill and Claude-Michel Schonberg. Or, maybe one of them read it and summarized it for the other.

Regardless, these two had the idea that a story about an escaped convict, a dogged police officer, a bunch of hookers, street people, an orphan, a love-triangle and French social unrest–all based on a million page novel–would make a bang-up musical.

Against all odds they were right. Les Miserables has truly become a worldwide phenomenon. The musical, as well as the current movie, are “sung-through” meaning that the entirety of the dialogue, save a hundred words or so, are rendered in song. The story is related in sweeping anthems, solos, duets, trios and heart breaking soliloquies.

Contains spoilers

Les Mis centers around a man named Jean Valjean. (For all you Duck Dynasty fans it is not “Gene Valgene.” It is pronounced something like “zhan valzhan.”) He is serving a 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread in an attempt to feed his starving relatives. Police inspector Javert dutifully reminds Valjean he was sentenced to five years for stealing the bread and 14 years for trying to escape.

What a relief.

At the end of the 19 years he is issued a “yellow-ticket of leave,” which is basically a parole card. After a futile attempt to find work, Valjean takes refuge in the home of a priest whom he promptly relieves of the church’s silver place settings. The priest forgives Valjean and claims him for God. After a heartfelt soul searching, a contrite Valjean repents and vows to be a changed man.

The problem is Valjean feels himself so changed that he is no longer Jean Valjean and will begin a new life, complete with running away from his parole and parole office, Javert. Javert does not overlook such an act, nor believe such a conversion.

Years later we find Valjean, using the assumed name Monsieur Madeleine, in another town, a successful business man who is currently mayor. He has found wealth and success in the days of social upheaval, a time not unlike Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol. Owing to bad timing and a misunderstanding a factory woman, Fantine–an employee of Valjean’s–is fired and due to the failed economy must turn to prostitution to support her daughter.

Valjean later realizes what has happened and tries to make amends, but Fantine has become ill and will not escape death. Out of a sense of guilt and responsibility he promises to find her daughter, Cosette, and raise her as his own. This he does after paying off the French innkeeper and his wife, the Thenardiers, two wretched people so crooked they probably had to be screwed into their caskets. These are they to whom Fantine had naively entrusted the welfare of Cosette.

Valjean returns to Paris (I think) to raise Cosette in anonymity. Years later they find themselves caught up in the June Rebellion (apparently these things were monthly) when a student rebel named Marius spies Cosette, finds out where she lives and pursues a forbidden relationship–forbidden by Valjean who does not trust anyone else to protect her.

A would-be love triangle is formed between Marius, Cosette and Eponine the daughter of the Thenardiers who is the same age as Cosette, now a young adult. Eponine’s love for Marius is unrequited as he sees her, basically, as one of the guys. Nonetheless her love is real and is demonstrated as she rescues Cosette from a band of robbers led by the former innkeeper, Msr. Thenardier, and rescues Marius twice. The second time is at a barricade when Eponine takes a bullet intended for Marius.

When the French army finally breaks through the barricade all of the student revolutionaries are killed with the exception of Marius. Vajean, who has joined the students, steals away the unconscious Marius and carries him through the vile sewers of Paris to freedom. Later, after recovering from his wounds, Marius returns to the cafe where the revolution had been planned. There he sings a song of remembrance that is powerful and touching.

The movie draws to a close with Valjean in old age near death. Marius and Cosette, who have just married, track him down in hiding in time to see him a final time. He joins Fantine in heaven, along with, it would seem, everyone who fought with the students in the revolt. Or opposed the king. Or drank an espresso.

The eschatology is a little sketchy, okay?

Maybe some of you are wondering, “You’ve got to be kidding me. People who have already seen this in live musical theater are shelling out more bucks to see a movie musical two hours and 40 minutes long??” Indeed. And many will more than once.

Here’s why: The music, almost to a song, is exceptional. Lyrically intelligent, insightful and melodic. People can and do sing these songs and listen to them over and over.

The story, though filled with enough characters to give the casting director a 9 month migraine, has powerful, clear themes. Mercy, redemption, justice, law, revenge, love, sacrifice. Seriously, we may not always want to give mercy but who among us does not want to receive it? Do we not admire those who give their lives for others? The New Testament in the Bible says there is no greater sign of love. A clearer picture of grace is not to be found.

Unlike many stories, the themes are not merely present they are embodied. Valjean is the embodiment of the mercy and grace of God. It so affects his life that it ultimately affects all of those around him. Javert is the embodiment of legalism, the idea that you can earn your way into God’s grace. As it does with us, it leads him to ultimate frustration as he can neither forgive Valjean nor accept God’s forgiveness. (His role is substantial and recurring, though I barely mentioned him above.) The Thenardiers are the embodiment of wickedness. There is nothing honest nor admirable about them. The songs of which they are a part are bawdy and ribald. Fantine is the embodiment of the person who receives the worst of life. She is the recipient of judgment on sins she did not commit. Her life is the one where people ask, “Where was God for her?” She asks the same question. Marius and Cosette are the embodiment of love. Eponine is the embodiment of one who give all for nothing in return. The revolutionary students, though not claiming a biblical mandate, are the embodiment of those who would seek justice in an unjust world.

The themes are universal and undeniably Christian.

As for the movie itself, I thought it incredibly powerful. Parts are hard to watch (Fantine’s descent into prostitution set to the garish faces of another bawdy song, “Lovely Ladies,” for example), but are reminders of the hell on earth people live through each and every day. And that in real life.

If you are wondering about taking children, I would not take children under middle school. There are a few gutter scenes you might want them to avoid. And, I’ll never look at Santa Claus the same way again.

The Hunger Games book

I first met Bekah Stoneking when she was about eight years old. My family had accepted an opportunity to serve at a small mission church in North Georgia and her family had come to help be a part of the re-start. They were incredibly faithful and sacrificial in their dedication to Christ, driving 30 or so miles every week to … Continue reading →

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The Gospel According to ‘The Hunger Games’ or Katniss Everdeen is not a Female Jesus, by Bekah Stoneking

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Postcards from Dystopia: Misunderstanding ‘The Hunger Games’

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Categories: Books, Culture, Fiction, Movie Reviews, Religion, Theology, Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hunger Games 4

Jennifer Lawrence The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), accompanied by Peacekeepers, prepares to enter the arena. Image: thehungergamesmovie.com

In 1516, Sir Thomas More published a short book entitled, Utopia, on which titular island lived a society of complete religious, social and political perfection. The word has come to mean “an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.” Interestingly, utopia comes from two Greek words ou (not) and topos (place). In other words utopia means “nowhere.” It does not exist.

What dysfunctional is to functional, dystopia is to utopia. Opposite the idyllic perfections of Utopia–to an extreme–dystopian societies are presented in literature and film as desperate, hopeless places, often due to a disaster or political upheaval. Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Children of Men, and Mad Max are dystopian. Many dystopian books and movies portray abuses of governmental authority, a surveillance state, oppression, loss of human rights, and the like. [Insert obligatory comment about current events.]

The current, massively popular teen book trilogy and just released movie, The Hunger Games, falls into this category. (Catching Fire and Mockingjay round out the Suzanne Collins authored trilogy.) The novels are international best sellers read by teens and adults alike.

Set in a future dominated by a harsh, enslaving government, all of North America (now called “Panem”) has been divided into 12 districts. Annually each district must offer tribute to The Capital as payment for a failed coup attempt set more than seven decades before the opening of the first book. The tribute payed is the offering of two young people–one boy and one girl–who are “reaped” from each district. These 24 “Tributes” are forced into a kill-or-be-killed fight, broadcast live for all to see. This bloodlust is called The Hunger Games.

The movie follows the characters, plot and storyline of the book faithfully. The acting is strong, with Lawrence being a standout. Fans of the books should not be disappointed.

The Hunger Games Katniss and Peeta

Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) training for "The Hunger Games." Image: thehungergamesmovie.com


Since the hype surrounding the movies reached fever pitch on Thursday and Friday, discussions popped up all over Facebook as to whether the books were appropriate for certain ages, and whether the movie should be viewed by kids. My take on age is most definitely not under 10. Eleven through thirteen depends on your child’s maturity and ability to grasp themes of good and evil. Middle school and up would be fine for most kids as long as you remember, the movie isn’t mere entertainment. It’s visual storytelling with a purpose using violence to challenge our hardened indifference to violence.

Recently a well known author/pastor/theologian offered his take on the series concluding they are filled with situational ethics. He writes:

The Capitol is hateful, and cruel, and distasteful, and obnoxious, and decadent, and icky . . . but not evil, as measured against any external standard. The Capitol is to be disliked because the Capitol is making people do things they would rather not be doing. But nowhere is there a simple refusal. There is a desire to have it all go away, but everybody participates with an appropriate amount of sullenness…But think for a moment. Someone tells you to murder a twelve-year-old girl, or they will kill you. What do you do? Suppose they give the twelve-year-old girl a head start? Suppose they give her a gun and tell her that if she murders you first, and she will be okay?

Collins’ purpose for writing is, according to the “About the Author” page in The Hunger Games, “to explore the effects of war and violence on those coming of age.”

To read this trilogy and see primarily situational ethics or kids killing kids is akin to dismissing Animal Farm because pigs cannot talk. It’s simply missing the point. Widely.

After reading the first book and seeing the movie, I’m left with three immediate impressions Collins might have been trying to make.

First, there are many who view war as sport and those people are clowns. The residents of the Capital look and act like Ringling Brothers clowns on a LSD trip. They dress as if a Crayola factory exploded beside their only Kohl’s. Bringing Katniss and Peeta from the drab grays of their coal mining district to the garish garb of the Capital citizens could have sprung from a novel co-authored by Cormac McCarthy and Dr. Seuss–perhaps No Country for Old Lorax.

Hunger Games Effie Trinket Katniss Everdeen

The clownish Effie Trinket (L, Elizabeth Banks) interviews Katniss Everdeen at The Reaping in District 12. Image: thehungergamesmovie.com


While Katniss and Peeta struggle with the dilemma of killing others their own age on live TV, the citizens of The Capital cheer as the blue haired Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) flashes a gleaming smile while projecting faux-interest onto those about to die. (“Hail, Caesar, we about to die salute you!” anyone?) Tucci and Toby Jones (playing co-anchor Claudius Templesmith) come across as a demented Weekend Update duo providing commentary on deaths, injuries and progress.

The message seems clear: those with such a keen desire for war are clownish, absurd and make a mockery of life itself. America’s military industrial complex comes clear into view. It is the true hunger game.

Second, children do kill children for real, not only in literature. One of the most puzzling objections to the books series and the movie is the portrayal of kids killing kids should not be shown. I’ll admit, it was difficult to watch a bunch of 13-18 year old young people in a 3-day murderous rampage, even if it was a movie. It was a sickening and grotesque invention.

But, therein is the rub. It is not an invention. It is real. Children die because of war ever single day. Children kill each other in gang wars, drug wars and child wars. They die in the ghetto and in Uganda, in America and Africa. Perhaps what the movie really reveals is how callous we have become to kids who are dying in real life. Or any people, child or not. Some will cry over the death of a fictional tribute who never give a second thought to a kid blown apart by a previously unexploded IED, suicide bomber or soldier gone rogue.

Third, killing is personal. In The Hunger Games most of the killing is hand-to-hand or very close combat. While not all violence is directly on screen and the gore is kept to a minimum, the sounds and emotions are close and have impact. The personal reality of killing in war is something we civilians never know, and the main thing our veterans would like to forget. Call it the difference between watching Band of Brothers and having lived it. It’s a root of PTSD, post-war depression, and suicide. Since Cain killed Abel humanity has too often turned to killing as a solution.

War today has been redefined by technology. Supposed smart bombs launched from planes or battleships hundreds of miles away destroy entire complexes of buildings. Human beings for whom Jesus Christ died are sent into eternity as little more than a flash of light on a screen in the war room. A news story from this year told of a new type of “smart bullets” capable of being programmed to be fired beyond an enemy and detonated a yard or two past his position. With it armies will be able to kill people without doing too much damage to the infrastructure. Yes! God help us save our buildings while killing each other.

Collins reminds us that all killing is personal, whether on the battlefield of a declared war, a covert op, or a mugging in Manhattan. She also reminds us of what two former warriors knew from personal experience:

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” Robert E. Lee
“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Hunger Games, a Lionsgate Films, Inc, production, is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images–all involving teens. Read a follow-up to this post.

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Bell’s Hells: A ‘Love Wins’ book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Non-fiction, Tags: , , , ,

Unless you have just returned from a Virgin Intergalactic flight, you are probably aware of the controversy surrounding the new book Love Wins by pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church in Michigan. (Not to be confused with the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington and its pastor Mark Driscoll who is probably plotting at this very moment how to get Rob Bell inside the octagon and beat him to a sniveling, bloody pulp.)

Even before its recent release, Bell’s publisher, HarperCollins, had leaked a very juicy summary strongly indicating the nature of the book. Love Wins would present, in the words of one editorial, “a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the ‘good news’ is much, much better than we ever imagined.”

Early reviews began popping up from Justin Taylor (which generated 1,500 comments and 30k Facebook “recommends”), Al Mohler, Greg Boyd, Kevin DeYoung’s epic, 20-page tome, followed by later reviews from Joey Jernigan, Relevant Magazine (a shockingly good review) and 185 respondents on the book’s page on Amazon. My intent was to not read the book, but I could not be satisfied to have it pass by me, so I broke down yesterday morning and downloaded to my Kindle. Trust me when I say that this review could easily have been three or four times as long. There are plenty of, “Dude, seriously?” moments in the book. I just do not have time to cover all of the 50 sections I highlighted while reading.

First, Love Wins is not all bad, not all heretical and not all varying degrees of bad theology. Second, it has much that is good, true and biblically accurate. Third, the good is good, but the bad is terrible.

Sub-titled Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell’s work is ambitiously named, but is not able to thoroughly address either of its three proposed topics. This is not to say any of them are ignored, but the length of the book and his writing style (short sentences, plentiful use of the return key, and a superfluity of questions) do not lend themselves to the scrupulousness required to explore them at more than surface depth. If the subject was cancer, then the good Dr. Bell merely sprayed it with Bactine and declared, “Antibiotics win!” This is especially disappointing since Bell claims it to be a book of answers. Less than a book of answers, it is a wide ranging book of questions and thoughts about heaven and hell as he sometimes redefines them without going to the trouble of letting the undiscerning reader know that he’s redefined them.

Bell does good in reminding us that Christ’s followers are responsible to exhibit heaven on earth. He writes (pg. 45):

Taking heaven seriously, then, means taking suffering seriously, now. Not because we’ve bought into the myth that we can create a utopia given enough time, technology, and good voting choices, but because we have great confidence that God has not abandoned human history and is actively at work within it, taking it somewhere. Around a billion people in the world today do not have access to clean water. People will have access to clean water in the age to come, and so working for clean-water access for all is participating now in the life of the age to come. That’s what happens when the future is dragged into the present.

This is nothing less than the kingdom present with an implicit repudiation of post-millennialism. Similarly, he asserts (pg. 55):

According to Jesus, then, heaven is as far away as that day when heaven and earth become one again and as close as a few hours. The apostle Paul writes to the Philippians that either he would go on living, or he would be killed and immediately be with Christ (chap. 1). Paul believed that there is a dimension of creation, a place, a space, a realm beyond the one we currently inhabit and yet near and connected with it.

He clearly is not is step with Belinda Carlisle here, as he holds that heaven is an actual place.

He also equates hell to the reality of sin (pg. 72):

So when people say they don’t believe in hell and they don’t like the word “sin,” my first response is to ask, “Have you sat and talked with a family who just found out their child has been molested? Repeatedly? Over a number of years? By a relative?”

Despite muddling the doctrine of hell later, he does not question its existence as related by Jesus, even providing this sterling insight:

Second, note what it is the man wants in hell: he wants Lazarus to get him water. When you get someone water, you’re serving them. The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him. In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony. He’s still clinging to the old hierarchy. He still thinks he’s better.

A real dilemma comes when Bell tries to explain away any kind of meaningful (ie, biblically sound) doctrine of eternal punishment. It’s here especially that he veers into heresy only rarely getting even two wheels on the road. It’s as if, given his revulsion for the course charted by the church for 2,000 years, he plots a new course, but, rather than using a GPS, he simply decides to spin the wheel. Bell goes to the trouble of pointing out that having a “personal relationship” with Jesus is not in the Bible, but seems blind to the fact that “love wins” makes no appearance either. Spotty hermeneutics and shoddy church history do little to help his case. It seems for him that Christianity is a religion of mystery of which questions are the core, but, historically, Christianity has been seen as a religion of revelation of which questions are a part.

Nowhere is Bell’s disdain for a doctrine of eternal justice toward sin more evident than his handling of scripture regarding who will be saved. Using a method of cherry picking that would make any migrant worker proud, Bell “proves” that “all” will eventually be drawn to heaven. With complete disregard for any context at all, verses that are directed to Israel, verses that refer to only believers, and verses that directed to another specific group are combined into a theological witches’ brew the odor of which should ward off any serious truth seeker. Even the aforementioned review of at Relevant magazine, noting “Bell’s seeming refusal in Love Wins to wrestle with the explicit difficulties in the biblical text,” concluded:

It would be easy to imagine a new Christian assuming Love Wins is an all-encompassing view of God, and then being dreadfully confused when they read Judges for the first time. Bell’s summation is at least as non-holistic as Mark Driscoll’s “My Jesus beats people up” image. It’s disappointing to see Bell fall into the same trap as Driscoll and some of his contemporaries, when the complexity and paradox in the character of God seem to be overlooked in the chase to gain points.

His belief that “love wins” becomes so completely skewed that he ultimately interprets verses that teach the depth of judgment on those who reject Christ as “there’s still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah.” It is a breathtaking display of eisegetical gymnastics. At least a 9.5.

Since Rob Bell is so concerned that billions and billions of people will go to hell, perhaps he should write a book challenging western Christians’ view of evangelism, rather than letting us off the hook by implying that all but the most hardened sinners will wind up in heaven anyway. Why should we spend one second of time and even one dollar to tell the lost about Christ when

The writers of scripture consistently affirm that we’re all part of the same family. What we have in common—regardless of our tribe, language, customs, beliefs, or religion—outweighs our differences. This is why God wants ‘all people to be saved.’ (pg. 99)

Sorry, Rob. Being in the same family is the result of salvation not the root of it.

Perhaps most disconcerting of all is his caricaturing of what most people would call “historic theology.” His complaint about the many “Jesuses” that have told a toxic story to the masses, is hardly helped by his overly simplistic, baldly inadequate description on page 173:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.

Nothing about the goodness of God leading to repentance. Nothing about unbelief. Nothing about sin separating from God. Bell’s comment would make Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens stand and applaud. It’s a ludicrous, stupid parody of God.

Reading portions of Love Wins I cannot help but think of a scene from the 1995 movie version of A Little Princess where the school girls had endured a lengthy read from some intolerably dull novel. As Sarah Crewe took her turn she immediately woke up everyone with a rousing portion that had every girl and one of the ladies swooning. Upon being reprimanded for changing the story, the adventurous Crewe replied, “I just couldn’t bear to think of her running off with that awful man, so I imagined it another way.” Bell’s conclusions about heaven are informative, about hell are less so, and about the fate of every person who ever lived? It seems he’s just imagined it another, unbiblical, way.

As a friend of mine (who loved the book) said of Love Wins, “This isn’t Bell’s best.” I would go so far as to say there are other books that are far less problematic than this one that are far more effective in teaching what Bell is attempting to say. This is far and away a fan club book.

If you want to read on the unimaginable love of God, please check out The Ragamuffin Gospel. If you want to read about our role with God in bringing justice to the world, read Good News About Injustice. For a far better treatment on helping the poor and providing clean drinking water, see When Helping Hurts. For an much more in depth exploration of heaven, try Randy Alcorn’s Heaven. For the best treatment on the prodigal son in your lifetime, you need The Prodigal God
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‘I, Sniper,’ book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction, Tags: , , , ,

41COU-jYq0L The latest in an ongoing series by Pulitzer Prize winning film critic and author, Stephen Hunter, sees the return of former Gunnery Sergeant sniper, Bob Lee Swagger, and, following a very slow effort in Night of Thunder, a return to form in the series for Hunter.

I started reading Hunter after seeing Shooter, the film adaptation of his first Bob Lee Swagger novel, Point of Impact. While the movie took liberties with the time frame of the story (Swagger is an recent war vet in the movie, but a Vietnam vet in the books), I was drawn in to the series of books by Hunter’s prose and depth of the characters he was willing to build into the stories.

In novel form, Swagger is a cranky, private, Arkansan who is regularly drawn into situations requiring him to rely on his superior knowledge of firearms and hunting. And that would be the sniper style hunting of humans, not bluejays, squirrels or warthogs. Point of Impact follows the story of his being framed for the attempted assassination of the President of the United States, his subsequent escape and tracking down of the ones who framed him. The climactic courtroom scene is excellent and worth reading the entire book.

The second Swagger novel, Black Light, is told in two phases: the narrative of the death of Bob Lee’s father, Medal of Honor winner Earl Swagger, is the first while Bob Lee’s investigation into that death years later forms the second. The book is well done and, despite 10,000 swear words (or so it seemed), captures a crass, rural side of 1950’s America, with all it’s poverty, violence and racial animus. Black Light was followed by Time to Hunt, which is one of the best novels I have ever read. This final volume of the initial Swagger trilogy ties together loose ends from characters mentioned in the first two books, most centrally, Swagger’s friend and spotter in Vietnam, Donnie Fenn, KIA by a Russian sniper the day before he was supposed to leave the country. Swagger himself was almost killed, receiving a steel hip for his trouble. While I’ve been reading novels since before I can remember, the 90 or so pages in Time to Hunt that describe Bob Lee Swagger’s Navy Cross winning actions at An Loc is as good a piece of American writing as has come off the presses in the last 20 years.

The 47th Samurai follows Bob to Japan to avenge the death of a friend, who’s own father was killed by Earl Swagger in his Medal of Honor winning action at Iwo Jima. This book seemed more to assuage Hunter’s interest in Japanese culture than a probable story for Swagger. Though enjoyable it was a slight step down from the first three. If I had happened on Night of Thunder first, I likely would not have read any of the others. It is more than 100 pages shorter than most of the other entries in the series, therefore missing much of the backgrounds and prose that made the previous efforts so enjoyable. Hunter admits in the afterward that he conceived the idea after going to a NASCAR race. It shows. There is very little interesting info about racing, driver Mark Martin is misidentified as “Mike” Martin, and every redneck, snake-handling, inbred, Appalachian, “Baptist” stereotype is in play with the criminal family who stand at the center of the story. I cannot imagine but that Hunter would like a mulligan on that volume.

Which brings us to I, Sniper where we find Swagger asked by his longtime FBI friend, Nick Memphis, (first introduced in Point of Impact), to give insight into the assassinations of four former 1960’s radicals, each of which was felled by a long range rifle shot. Another former Marine sniper, Carl Hitchcock, has been isolated by the FBI as the highest person of interest and, when a “shrine” of sorts is found in his North Carolina home, the investigation leads to a cheap hotel room where Hitchcock is found dead in a closet, apparently by his own hand. (Carl Hitchcock’s Vietnam history as the sniper with the most kills is a recurring item in the Swagger novels and is based on real life sniper, Carlos Hathcock.)

Not being satisfied with the cumbersome, time consuming methodologies of law enforcement, Swagger goes rogue, another theme of the books, to run his own investigation which ultimately leads him to the Montana ranch of one T. T. Constable (a toilet paper thin veiled caricature of Ted Turner), whose ex-wife, Joan Flanders (an even more thinly veiled caricature of Jane Fonda), where he again hunts men who believes themselves to be hunting the now 68-year-old Swagger. The writing, story depth and total length make it more like the books in the initial trilogy.

Like all the Swagger novels there are lengthy, detailed descriptions of guns, cartridges, holsters, equipment, long distance shot evaluation and shooting. Likewise, there are gory, explicit descriptions of what happens when a bullet traveling at 2,600 fps hits a head, heart or torso. If you like thrillers or firearms and can swim through some of the language and descriptions of the more sordid elements of society, you might enjoy these novels. If you don’t like reading about people dying violent deaths, you might want to move on to Karen Kingsbury.

You can purchase I, Sniper, The 47th Samurai, and Time to Hunt through the links below. You pay the same low Amazon.com price and I get a referral fee. Thanks!

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The great 2009 Christmas ‘nook’ e-reader giveaway

Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction, Tags: , , ,

The 'nook' e-reader pack from Barnes & Noble

The 'nook' e-reader pack from Barnes & Noble


The 'nook' e-reader by Barnes & Noble

The 'nook' e-reader by Barnes & Noble


The launch of martyduren.com is being celebrated with a giveaway: a brand new ‘nook’ by Barnes & Noble. The soon to be released e-reader is being called a “Kindle killer” and a “game changer”, while Wired.com says, “The Nook is already starting to look like the real internet to the Kindle’s AOL.” Other information and technical specs about the ‘nook’ can be found at the B & N website.

The contest is open to anyone (18 years of age and over) who follows the correct entry directions; each entrant may be entered up to seven (7) times. The contest is now open and will end at 11:59 pm (Eastern), Friday, December 11, 2009.

To enter, complete the form below. One entry will result for each of the following:

1. Your name, City and State and email address (winner will notified via entered email address)

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THE FINE PRINT:
1.
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