Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Fall of Empires: From Glory to Ruin: an Epic Account of History's Ancient Civilizations

by Cormac O'Brien
304 pages. Murdoch Books, 2009.

If you love ancient history, or if you want to know some background to the time of the Bible, this is a great book for you. In about 25 pages each, O'Brien briefly covers the history 16 ancient empires, all but two making at least a brief appearance in the Biblical world. The entries are bigger than a typical encyclopedia article, yet smaller than a book and easy enough than the average non-historian can easily manage reading them. This book gives information on these empires that will help you understand why Cyrus sent the Jews home from Babylon, why the Israelites lived in mortal terror of the Assyrians, and by describing the religious nature of Babylonian society even gives a clue as to why Nebuchadnezzar was so open to Daniel's interpretation of his dreams.

Rather than calling the book The Rise of Empires, in his title O'Brien has focused on their collapse.He partially explains this with a quote from Edward Gibbon, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance." O'Brien is forcing his readers to think on the fleeting nature of human existence and the fleeting span of even history's most powerful empires. As someone else once said, "The grass withers, the flower fades..." and mighty empires are no different at all.

For the most part, O'Brien links the rise of his empires to Biblical narratives though this isn't his focus. Drawing the links this way makes life just a little simpler for the student of Biblical history.

Cautions: If you're looking for links to Biblical history, the section on Egypt is missing them. Though the Israelites played an apparently significant role in this nation's history at one point, it goes unmentioned.

The book, though eminently readable, is poorly bound (at least my copy was) so treat it with extreme care.

Conclusion: The book is very readable and a great background resource. Despite the poor binding it's well worth having.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How the News Makes Us Dumb

by C. John Sommerville
InterVarsity Press, 155 pages, 1999

No, you’re not paranoid, the media really is out to get Christians. In his book “How the News Makes Us Dumb C. John Sommerville argues that news by its very nature is incapable of portraying Christians (or any conservatives) positively. He also insists that watching daily news is bad for our brains. Many of these types of media-critiquing books spend time outlining solutions to the problems they present, but Sommerville skips that part. He thinks the news media is beyond repair. Instead of reading the newspaper he wants people to stay informed by reading books.

Not That Important

But how could reading the news make us dumb? The news is filled with important events from around the world. Shouldn’t we know stuff like that? Sommerville starts out his book by making the point, “Important people don’t like to be in the news.” The people out there actually getting things done don’t have time to deal with the press. Celebrities on the other hand, love to be covered, and so they are. Instead of leaders of industry we hear all about TV and movie stars. We might watch the news to keep abreast of important issues, but all too often we hear celebrity gossip instead. Our brains grow fat and flabby hearing about Jessica Simpson’s new boyfriend or the Rolling Stones’ latest gig.

Our daily dose of news is also time consuming. Many of us feel compelled to read or watch the news daily but we don’t feel the same compulsion for daily study in other fields like science, history, or sometimes even religion! How many people spend as much time on their Bible study as their study of the news?

The daily nature of news also undermines its importance. News doesn’t occur regularly; it occurs in erratic spurts. Still, reporters have to provide news on a daily or even hourly basis, even if nothing is happening. Busy news day or not, a paper will still have to be delivered the next day, and the evening news will still have to last a full hour.

So a story that was too insignificant to broadcast one day can suddenly become the lead story on a slow day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Road to Unafraid

by Captain Jeff Struecker, with Dean Merrill
Thomas Nelson
2006 / 232 pages

This memoir, whose author won a competition declaring him the army’s top Ranger, shows more about one of the true stories behind the rescue of the survivors of the famous - and disastrous – mission in Somalia that was portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down. 

Struecker tells how his faith enabled him to cope with his fear of death, combat in Somalia, and the hazards of being a chaplain under fire in Afghanistan. A great book about Christian manhood for guys, teen and up, who don't want to read sermons about Christian manhood. My fifteen-year-old devoured it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let's Roll

by Lisa Beamer
Tyndale House
2002 / 280 pages

reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

On a scale of ten, I rate most of this book as a twelve. So what is this book about, and what makes it special?

The blurb on the book’s cover gives you a hint: “9-11. You read all about it. You heard American hero Todd Beamer’s last words. But is that the end of the story? In Let’s Roll! Todd’s wife, Lisa reveals what really happened on that ill-fated flight, as well as poignant glimpses of a genuine hero. She talks candidly about Todd’s growing-up years, their marriage and last week together, and then family moments without him…and how she found the confidence to go on in the face of such tragedy and loss.”

It’s a moving book as it tells us about Lisa Beamer who as a 15-year-old wanted to know why God snatched away her father in the prime of his life, and about the same Lisa who as a young mother finds the strength to go on after the loss of her husband.

It’s a powerful book that tells how she finds that strength in God’s promises: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:1). As a 15-year-old she had come to understand the plans God has do not just include “good things” but the whole array of human events. The prospering God speaks of is often the outcome of a “bad” event. Like Joseph’s brothers heard in Egypt “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, that many people may be saved.”

It is a Christian book about a Lisa who as a seven-year-old committed her life to Jesus, not knowing what “that decision meant until later.” She writes that her realization evolved naturally as she grew up, without any “crises experience or a dramatic turnaround.” She didn’t need a special calling to be what God wanted her to be.

In trust and obedience, this mom, this unpretentious housewife, spoke wondrously on every major network, repeatedly, not of her own strength, but of “the hope that comes from knowing who is in control. Hope comes from knowing that we have a sovereign, loving God who is in control of every event of our lives.” And so this magnificent book is not really about Todd or Lisa – it is about the Almighty who strengthened her for such a time as this.

If I had to pick my ten favorite books, it would be tough because our family library has some 3000 books, but Let’s Roll! is definitely one of them. It starts a bit slow with Todd’s growing-up-years, but read on: it’s one of those rare books you’ll remember for years to come!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Great Escape

by Christine Farenhorst
P&R Publishing, 2002, 182 pages

reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

Christine Farenhorst is a superb storyteller. The Great Escape is a collection of forty short stories about events in the lives of Christians and unbelievers: each story teaches, each tale tells about the role of God in the lives of his subjects.

Every story is interesting and absorbing. In about three pages each tells about a person or an event in a manner that teaches solid lessons about victories or failures of people throughout the ages.

We read about Houdini, the escape artist, who could not escape from death. We read about the fictitious Lester Green, who convinced many gullible people that a cold car engine could be started by putting two hens on the car hood. We read about the orphan John Sebastian Bach, who ended all his musical compositions with “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God alone the glory). We read about the many Roman emperors who persecuted the believers. We read about princes and paupers, believers and unbelievers, the famous and the infamous, people from our own times and people long dead, and we smile, and sometimes shed a tear.

It’s a good book, a good read, a treasure worth acquiring, just based on the well-told stories. But there is more!

“The media, with its grasping secularism, has become the main voice in many households as lax fathers and mothers relinquish their holds on the spiritual lives of their children…” As individual family members we “are to speak intimately to each other of the things pertaining to God’s kingdom and of what He has brought about in [our] lives” So writes Christine in her Introduction.

At the end of each story are two questions. Just two! But each is powerful food for thought. Christine prays that her stories and questions “will encourage parents to speak with their children, and children to discuss with their parents, what God’s love and bounty has done in their lives and in the lives of past saints.”

“Soli Deo Gloria.” To God alone the glory. But with God’s help these “devotions” will trigger such discussions.

The book is a rare treasure, a must for all parents!

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: The Great Escape is a collection of forty short stories about events in the lives of Christians and unbelievers: each story teaches, each tale tells about the role of God in the lives of his subjects.

CAUTION: Some stories may be too intense for very young children.

CONCLUSION: When your children ask you to read them a story before they go to bed, this is a great book to pull out. The stories are exciting and, as an added bonus, each ends with two questions to get your children (and you!) thinking through the moral of the story. Without the questions, it’s a fantastic read, but when you add them in it becomes a wonderful tool for parents and children to talk together about what God has done in their lives, and in the lives of saints in the past.