Friday, January 28, 2011

The Best of Father Brown

by G.K Chesterton
Various editions

To talk about the "best" of Father Brown suggests that somewhere there's a "worst" of Father Brown, or at least that there's some stories about this character that really aren't that good. If those stories exist, I have yet to find them.

Father Brown is the hero of G.K. Chesteron's mystery stories. He is a small, unassuming Roman Catholic priest who seems to be so innocuous that he's ready to fade into the background and disappear. Yet what makes Brown unique is that he has an unusually clear insight into the depths of human depravity. If I didn't know that Father Brown was a Catholic, I would've assumed he was a Calvinist.

Each mystery in this collection story has a seemingly unsolvable crime as its starting point. The local justice officials are stumped, yet somehow this overlooked little priest jumps to the right conclusion. He is embarrassed to explain this unique talent, but you finally learn that Father Brown puts himself into the mind of the criminal, imagining what base desires motivate him and how that conforms to the known facts. With this information, he deduces who the culprit must be.

While it's fascinating to see who Father Brown fingers as the culprit, it's also intriguing to see what he does with the villain once he learns who that is. He doesn't always turn the culprit in. As a priest, Father Brown's first concern is with the sinner's eternal soul and not with temporal punishment. When he can he extracts a confession and repentance from the criminal. As a priest, he's then obligated to keep this confession confidential according to Catholic church rules. While I'd have to take issue with this approach - repentance doesn't necessarily mean that there's no penalty - I do have to admire the overwhelming concern shown for the spiritual well being of even the most vile offenders. There's a lesson that we could all learn better.

The Father Brown stories are great mysteries full of interesting characters told by a master writer. The best part about it is that if you like these stories, there's plenty more Father Brown books to read after this one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Fallacy Detective

Thirty-Eighy Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning
by Nathaniel & Hans Bluedorn
Christian Logic, 2009, 214 pages

reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

Two young fellows, brothers Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn wrote this book as a course in logic for the Christian home-schooling adherents. Why? Let them tell you:
“We see a need for Christians to strive for a higher standard of reasoning. We believe God wants his people to become aware of their lack of discernment, and logic is an important part of the science of discernment. For instance, many Christians adopt beliefs and practice without properly evaluating the arguments which are used to support them. We need to rediscover the way of the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the apostles’ teachings were true (Acts 17:10-11).

“As we grow older, we become more aware of how poor many people’s reasoning is. But we also need to realize how poor our own reasoning is. This is a humbling thought, and with it we embark on a journey towards higher standards of reasoning. We will never be as logical as the Lord Jesus Christ was, but we must work at it.

“Besides just learning logic, we also see a need for a truly Christian logic. We want to take logic back from the unbelievers. Our challenge is to define good reasoning in a truly biblical way. Logic was not invented by a pagan philosopher named Aristotle. Logic is the science of thinking the way God thinks (more correctly, the way God wants us to think) – the way Jesus taught us to think…”

Friday, January 14, 2011

A lightbulb moment

This is from my (Jon) comic blog ReallyGoodComics.com. I figured it was about a book - the Book, in fact - so a little cross-pollination was appropriate.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Meaning and Mode of Baptism

by Jay E. Adams
P&R Publishing, 1975, 56 pages

Immersion or Sprinkling? And does it really matter?

The answer Jay Adams gives to the second question is an emphatic yes, first because baptism itself matters – it is one of only two sacraments God gave us – and second, because, as a sacrament, baptism is symbolic, and the mode by which it is performed is part of the symbolism. So if baptism should be done by immersion, then we would see in the descent into the water and emerging from it, our sharing in Christ’s burial and resurrection. But if sprinkling is the proper mode, then we would see something very different being symbolized: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon us, and His purification of our lives.

The rest of this 56-page booklet is spent answering the first question. Adams defends the traditional Reformed practice of baptism by sprinkling and argues that not only is this permissible, it is the only proper way to do baptism. He makes his case by showing the link between baptism and Old Testament purifications, which were done via sprinkling. He also dissect the texts used by immersionists to make their case, and shows how these texts actually assume sprinkling, rather than immersion.

Best studied with an open Bible at hand, this tiny tome requires, but also rewards a reader’s effort.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Flames of Rome

by Paul L. Maier
Kregel Publications, 1981, 445 pages

If you like history, church history, or historical fiction, you’ll likely love this well written tale of Rome in the time of Nero. The Flames of Rome recounts Nero’s rise to power, his reign as emperor of Rome, and his ultimate brutal death.

Strictly speaking, this book is not history. While it’s certainly true to the historical period, and works with real, historical characters, it fills in a lot of details. For example, at one point the apostle Paul visits Rome and we learn about his interaction with other characters in the book. Did Paul visit Rome? Yes, he did. Did Paul sit down and talk with the other characters in the book? Since the other characters, like Paul, really did exist, it’s possible. Will we ever know for sure? It’s doubtful.

Though the book works with historical characters and detail, it’s still fictional. It’s useful to give you the full flavor of the glory, and the immorality, that was Rome. Nero, as one of Rome’s more depraved emperors, is depicted in all his disgusting glory. His fascination with his friend’s wife, and his ultimate success in taking her for himself is real enough. Her desire for Nero, her seduction of him is a useful plot device that could’ve happened but probably didn’t.

What made the book fascinating for me was the way the rise of Christianity was woven through the storyline. Early on, the character Pomponia encounters Christianity and is sorely tempted to get involved with this strange yet exciting sect. This, naturally, causes friction between her and her very Roman husband. The trouble does not stop there. Pomponia’s daughter, Plautia, becomes a Christian as well. Her new husband, Sabinus, happily indulges her beliefs in this offbeat Jewish sect, but becomes more influenced by them than he might have imagined. Sabinus, in his eventual role as governor of Rome, must struggle with his desire to free Rome from the insanity of Nero, while trying not to betray the Christian beliefs he is increasingly calling his own.

The only caution I have about this book is that if you are squeamish, this tale may not be for you. While Maier writes with delicacy, it’s still clear that Nero is bisexual, and that Christians die in horrible, terrifying ways. Maier strikes an admirable balance between letting his readers know of the depravity of Rome without using needless and titillating detail. Yet the gross reality is there since a tale like this cannot ignore it.

It’s a good tale and it makes for an easy read. It’s historical fiction that’s good enough that it could’ve happened. Read this book.