Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Enjoyable and Informative, but with a flawed premise — "The Printer and the Preacher" Book Review

My review is fairly critical of Peterson's book, The Printer and the Preacher. However, let me state at the beginning, that I enjoyed the book a lot, even with all the things that I find wrong with it. If I ignore the fact that I think Peterson failed to demonstrate his premise that a friendship between Franklin and Whitefield "invented America", he does a good job of showing how these two men exerted a powerful influence on the unique character of the emerging American nation. Many of these character traits have continued into the 21st century. They may well have been the most influential pre-Revolutionary War figures in this young, not-yet country. So, read the book for this perspective.

The best part of the book is the final chapter, "Special Effects". With a little background information on both Franklin and Whitefield, this chapter could have been published as an article. In this chapter, Peterson talks about how each influenced and affected the other. He also summarizes the many ways that each man impacted the forming character of the new nation. As Peterson says in this chapter, "We are George and Ben."

The timelines that Peterson included at the end of the book are also helpful. He includes 3 timelines: Before They Met, George Whitefield's Amazing American Tour (1739-41), and Encounters (listing the known and possible meetings and correspondence of George and Ben).

Peterson's premise, that the friendship between Franklin and Whitefield invented America, is quite bold … and, frankly, I think he failed to prove it. First, I wonder how much of a friendship there really was. It seems, from Peterson's book, that the two men were certainly acquaintances and business partners. This was, as Peterson points out in the final chapter, a long-lasting relationship. However, I don't think the book supports the kind of deep friendship that the subtitle postulates. For example, at one point, Peterson mentions that both Whitefield and Franklin were in England at the same time, but over a period of 6 years, they never once saw each other or talked to each other or wrote to each other or even acknowledged in their respective memoirs that the other was close. In other places, Peterson uses speculation to bolster his claim of an "inventing friendship" and even about other events or relationships. I'm not a fan of biographies that make excessive use of speculation and this is one (speculative biographies).

Second, both men embodied the unique characteristics of this country-in-the-making — independence, egalitarianism, a fervor for making the budding nation the best it could be, pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. Each, on his own, was one of the most powerful of positive influences among the colonies as the colonies sometimes inched and sometimes hurtled toward independence. However, to say that their friendship invented America is, at best, speculation. Franklin and Whitefield were certainly good for each other — they challenged, supported, and, in their own ways, promoted each other. They were good for the emerging country as they sought to make America a good nation. It's just that their friendship didn't do that.

There are some odd mistakes in the book that an editor should have caught. These are two examples: 1962 saw the start of the Salem witch trials (that should be 1692); [Franklin] had established a newspaper as…a "fifth estate"… (the mainstream press is generally considered to be the' fourth estate').

Finally, Peterson's writing style sometimes becomes extremely informal in ways that are normal for oral communication but feel out of place for a biography. For example, This was not a marketing gimmick. Well, it was, but he was backing up the image… and If you view advertising as proud and/or deceptive, you’ll have a problem with this…

If you, like me, enjoy reading about the formation of the American republic, then this is a good gook to read.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a review copy as a part of their BookLook Bloggers programme. As a participant in this programme, I am free to write the review I think the book deserves and receive no compensation other than continued participation in the programme — I don't even get a kickback if you click on the book title, go to Amazon, and buy the book.)

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The IMB Is Not Going Charismatic!!

A recent change in IMB (Int'l Mission Board) policies related to appointment of missionaries has generated some misreporting by some and misinterpretation of reporting by many. For instance, Religion News Service​ had a headline yesterday, "Southern Baptists to open their ranks to missionaries who speak in tongues". Like most things that to be appear black-and-white on Facebook and via the media, this is way more complex than that.

Realizing that most will not be interested, for those who are, yesterday, David Miller wrote an excellent (and long) blog post about this change. It's worth reading and should be read by all Southern Baptists. I found nothing in the article with which to disagree, including his thoughts about the policy changes that were made in 2005. IMB Policies: Breathe, Folks — This Is NOT a Cataclysm!

I would, however, go one step farther than Miller. He says that those who supported the 2005 change on the policy related to baptism were not Landmarkists. I agree, but I would clarify that by adding that they certainly exhibited a tendency to accept the key tenent of Landmarkism — that Baptist churches can be traced back to the first century church and are the only true New Testament churches. Even more specifically, that the only valid baptism was that done in a Baptist church, by a Baptist — it was a reaction against alien baptism. And, yes, for those who are reading carefully, this is a simplification, akin to what I complained about in the first paragraph.

So, the results of the policy changes are, I think, good:

  • A private prayer language does not automatically disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate from being appointed as an IMB missonary. Now, teaching and encouraging glossolalia (speaking in tongues) would cause an appointed missionary to run afoul of another policy.
  • Biblical baptism (by immersion after salvation as a symbolic, testimonial,  memorial, and obedient act) is once again the criterion for a missionary candidate with the IMB, not who did the baptizing.
  • Having a child who is a teenager does not automatically disqualify an candidate couple from being appointed. This one is a bit more complex as it depends on the teenager, the location of potential service, and the availability of socialization. While it may seem strange to even make this a consideration for appointment but not for continued service, believe me, there is a huge difference between a family going overseas for service with a teenager and a family serving overseas when their children were not teenagers when they were appointed.
  • Divorce is not an automatic disqualifier for appointment by the IMB. Each case will be considered individually for circumstances of the divorce and for cultural considerations in the place where the individual or family would serve. This will be much more complicated for those who examine candidates, but is a more appropriate process than automatic disqualification.
For those who have made it this far, my plea is that you pray for IMB staff who are charged with the responsibility to examine candidates for appointment as Southern Baptist missionaries, sent by churches through the IMB and that you pray for Trustees who give final approval. Each of those persons needs divine wisdom.

Run well … whether it's "just" life or running on the roads, trails, dreadmills (OK, my bias), and tracks,
Bob

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: Wrestling for My LIfe, by Shawn Michaels

Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, The Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar, Shawn Michaels with David Thomas

This is a difficult to rate -- is it a 3-star or a 4-star book? -- and a difficult review to write. I am not a fan of professional wrestling and had absolutely no idea who Shawn Michaels is. I selected the book mostly because I have such a low regard for wrestling and wanted to see what one of these actors had to say about how his faith impacted his career.

This is not primarily a book about professional wrestling. There is a lot of the wrestling life, but the purpose of the book is to show the change that Christ made in Michaels' life and in his career.

My take-aways from the book:

  • Professional wrestling is, as I've always known, acting. Victory and defeat are illusions that are determined ahead of any match. It is athletic acting -- the actors are incredibly strong and dedicated to their acting. They are agile and some of their moves are quite gymnastic. There is the very real possibility of injury with these massive bodies colliding with each other, with tables, with floors, and with other objects. But, in the end, it's only a show.
  • I did like the inside look at professional wrestling even though I'm not a fan — decisions about who wins/loses, choreography, rivalries/partnerships, stage–persona vs real life.
  • Shawn seems to have had a very real conversion experience. While some might argue that he tended to compromise his faith in his chosen profession, he did make what seem to be very honest attempts to live out his faith in the context of this very secular and often very non-Christian environment. And, I think he largely succeeded.

I think the writing was pretty flat, stilted. But I think David Thomas (listed as "Contributor", but I suspect his real task was to make the book readable) allowed Michaels' "voice" to come through and I suspect that fans of wrestling will like that -- one isn't hearing someone else telling Michaels' story. That is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comment on wrestling fans, just an acknowledgement that the book is not sanitized they will hear Michaels tell his story.

There's nothing particularly new in Michaels' telling of his conversion and the change Christ made. However, I think he speaks to an audience that doesn't get many, if any, opportunities to hear this perspective in professional wrestling.

In the end, while this is a 3-star book for me, I expect that wrestling fans and particularly fans of Shawn Michaels will find this book a welcome and interesting explanation of his life and career.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a review copy as a part of their BookLook Bloggers programme. As a part of this programme, I am free to write the review I think the book deserves and receive no compensation other than continued participation in the programme — I don't even get a kickback if you click on the book title, go to Amazon, and buy the book.)

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

God's Story in 66 Verses, by Stan Guthrie

Great idea and execution. Guthrie makes a rather outrageous and bodacious claim in the subtitle, Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book, but has succeeded in his goal by choosing a key verse from each book of the Bible, one that captures the core message of the book. Then he gives a 2-3 page overview of each book. He has managed to capture the message of the Bible clearly.

This is an excellent overview and would be a good introduction for a new believer or for anyone who is not familiar with the Bible. It's also a good reminder for mature believers and helpful in pointing out the key themes — something that can be difficult if one gets caught up in the details of each book. Mind you, the details are important, but this book helps one to step back and see the whole of each book before digging into the details. For my first time through the book, I read 2-4 chapters per day as a part of my personal devotions and it was helpful. However, I think a better us of the book is to use this as one reads through the Bible — getting an overview and then memorizing each key verse while reading that particular book of the Bible.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher through their blogger review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved. My only compensation is continued participation in the review programme.)

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best and Worst Books I Read in 2014

Someone asked me on Facebook if I was going to post my favourite books of 2014. I looked back at my list (95 books and 26,442 pages). Here are the best and worst, sorted by category (my categories).

The Best Reads would be rated 5-stars by me on Amazon, which means the book has to **REALLY** have an impact on me. I tried to decide on the 1-3 absolute best and couldn't narrow it down because each is unique and meaningful for different reasons.

The Worst Reads would all be rated 2-stars or less, which means I REALLY did not like them.

If you're interested in seeing my comments on each book, you can view or download this document from my Dropbox account — The Best and Worst Books I Read in 2014

BEST READS OF 2014
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (Biography) 
  • A. Lincoln: A Biography, Ronald C White (Biography)
  • Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, Kay Strom Marshall (Biography) 
  • Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (only Colossians chapter), John Calvin (Bible) 
  • Expositor's Bible: Colossians and Philemon, Alexander Maclaren (Bible) 
  • The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, Jayson Georges (Cross-Cultural Ministry) 
  • Daily Reflections on the Names of God, Ava Pennington (Devotional) 
  • A Hobbit Devotional: Bilbo Baggins and the Bible, Ed Strauss (Devotional) 
  • Revisiting the Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman and Bobby Harrington (Evangelism) 
  • Faith of My Fathers (Chronicles of the Kings #4), Lynn Austin (Fiction) 
  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (Fiction) 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Fiction) 
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, James W. Pennebaker (Language/Psychology) 
  • The Painful Side of Leadership, Jeff Iorg (Leadership) 
  • The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, Hans Finzel (Leadership) 
  • The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Kathy Keller (Marriage) 
  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell (Sociology) 
  • The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Remembers, Andrew Rice (Uganda History) 
  • The Monuments Men, Robert M. Edsel (US/Military History)
WORST READS OF 2014
  • Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life Inspired, Wyatt North (Biography)
  • The Legend of Juan Miguel: The Tale of an Unlikely Hero, Anna K. Sargent (Fiction)
  • Pursuit, Jason Garrett (Fiction)
  • Tiaras & Texans, Laina Turner (Fiction)
  • Your Best Nap Now: 7 Steps to Nodding Off at Your Full Potential, Martha Bolton (Humour)
  • How to Solve Soduku (52 Brilliant Ideas), Robin J. Wilson (Non-fiction) 
On the running front, which was the original purpose of this blog ... well, let's just say that was another worst of 2014.  :-(  I'm trying to get back and plan on 2015 being much better.

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Kampala, Uganda

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: No Greater Valor, by Jerome Corsi

No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne, and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory (I read the Kindle edition), by Jerome Corsi, is a (mostly) readable account of the American defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. American forces tenaciously held this important crossroads against numerically superior forces and in spite of harsh weather and shortage of both food and ammunition. Because of the weather and the fact that the Bastogne defenders were surrounded by German forces, fresh supplies could not be brought in until the weather broke on 23 December. I'm not competent to declare whether or not this battle is the most courageous ever fought by American troops, but this certainly is a story of courage and determination. The defenders on the ground, the airmen who flew supply drop runs, medics who volunteered to fly into Bastogne in gliders, and Patton and his 3rd Army all demonstrated courage.

I have no military background — missed the Vietnam draft by one graduating class, my draft number was either #162 or #169 (Hey, give me a break — that was 43 years ago). I also don't generally like books about specific battles. Consequently, I struggled a bit with the military organizational vocabulary. Mostly, I just ignored those kinds of details and read for the bigger picture and that was what I found appealing. For me, the book got much better once the preparations to defend Bastogne were done. I did find it appealing to be reading this book on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne — that was not by design, it's just when I happened to read the book.

Corsi says that his primary purpose in writing this book was "to reexamine the importance of God in our Judeo-Christian historical tradition in a world certain again to be…'nasty, cruel, brutish, and short' once again in the future." I don't believe he accomplished his purpose. Note — that's not the same thing as saying that I don't believe the premise. I just don't think Corsi presented the kind of compelling evidence that he intended. There are certainly examples of faith in action — Patton's distribution of leaflet encouraging the troops to pray, the attendance of both troops and leaders in Mass and Protestant services during lulls in the action, the statements of belief that God had favoured the American. Did God give the generals and other officers extraordinary wisdom in making decisions that seem to be merely fortuitous? I think so. Were the personnel involved motivated and emboldened by a belief that they were fighting to defeat an evil in the Nazis that was built on a Satanic foundation? I think so.

Someone who believes that God does not intervene in human affairs or, certainly, a non-Christian may well find the references to God's help obnoxious. But, if that focus doesn't bother you, this is a really good story of courage and great strategy.

[DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their blogger book review programme, BookLook Bloggers. The expectation by the publisher is that I will write the review that I believe the book deserves. Other than the free copy of the book and continued participation in the reveiw programme, I receive no other compensation from the publisher.]

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Same Kind of Different as Me

Denver's voice is the first one heard and he opens the story by saying, "Until Miss Debbie, I'd never spoke to no white woman before. Just answered a few questions, maybe--it wadn't really speakin. And to me, even that was mighty risky since the last time I was fool enough to open my mouth to a white woman, I wound up half-dead and nearly blind." Now, that's a great start to a story -- it caught my attention.

This is a gut-wrenchingly honest book (I even shed a few tears and had a hard time returning to it at one point) -- friendship, loyalty, prejudices, fears, sin, love, forgiveness, doubts, anger, pain, loss, greed, trust, dashed dreams, crushed hopes. Two very dissimilar men (Hall and Denver) become friends -- Hall's wife sort of pushes Hall into the relationship. While it is a book about friendship, the message of the book is equally how much impact one person (Deborah Hall) can have on all the people around her. Interesting way to write the book with the "voices" of Hall and Denver alternating throughout the book -- often every other chapter but, occasionally, there will be 2-3 chapters of Hall followed by a chapter of Denver.

(Disclaimer: The second time through, I received a free review copy from the publisher through their Blogger Review program, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I believed the book deserved -- an easy task with this book.)

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