Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: The Essential Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan

4 Stars out of 5 Essential Jonathan Edwards is a must-have if you are already a Jonathan Edwards fan. I have read and loved some of his works, so I was excited to receive a free advanced copy of it in exchange for an honest review via netgalley. Jonathan Edwards epitomized the pastor/theologian title. His knowledge of God had a direct effect in his heart and life. And it is to our spiritual benefit to learn from his example.
It truly is a comprehensive book that summarizes Edwards’ biography and writings. The authors didn’t shy away from including even his shameful stance on slavery. I thoroughly enjoyed the first third that covers his life story. I breezed through this part.

I didn’t get as engrossed in the last two-thirds that covers Edwards’ published works. The authors quote him extensively and add their explanation to Edwards’ points. This is especially helpful for many of us who are not used to reading colloquial English. I have tried many times to read Puritan works, but end up giving up part of the way. I love the wisdom I can glean from them, but they are not easy reads.

There were some questionable things that Edwards believed that I have to research further. For example, as mentioned earlier, Edwards believed that slavery was not incompatible with his faith. He also made a distinction between the OT church being Christ’s mother and the NT church as His wife.

I would not recommend reading this book cover to cover, but it is excellent to have in your library as a reference book if you want to know Edwards’ beliefs in certain topics. The book is written for the purpose of introducing its readers not just to the scholarly approach to Scripture, “not to shoot over people’s heads with lofty academic discussion, but to fire the heart and mind to embrace the thrilling experience of a God-centered existence.” I believe the author succeeded in doing what they set out to do.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book Review: The Flags of our Fathers
The Flags of our Fathers will be on my favorite books of 2018. What an unforgettable, amazing and brutal battle took place in Iwo Jima  involving ordinary men (many were merely boys, actually) tasked with extraordinary responsibilities to fight the cruelest of enemies. This book covers the story of the six men (two were misidentified initially) who were in the iconic photo of the flag raising in Mt. Suribachi, from their humble beginnings to the end of their courageous lives.

My grandfather was a WW2 veteran and a Bataan death march and concentration camp survivor. He experienced the vile cruelty imposed by the ruthless Japanese soldiers onto their enemies. To his dying breath, he never changed his opinion about the Japanese people. After reading this book, I understand better now why he never seemed to have overcome his hatred of them. The military under Hirohito fought unfairly, mercilessly and almost devoid of humanity. I also see clearly why the atom bombs had to be used to break their morale. It was the only way to stop their mass killings of innocent people, and their unfair, unethical (i.e., against the generally accepted rules of war since nothing about wars is ethical at all) fighting tactics in Asia and the Pacific. It is hard to believe that this is the same peaceful people whom we now respect and consider to be one of our strongest allies.

The narrative that led to the invasion and the subsequent events after were some of the best storytelling I’ve read in awhile. I look forward to reading more by this author and watching the Clint Eastwood film adaptations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: This Changes Everything by J Crowe

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen YearsThis Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We read this as a family and quite enjoyed it. It’s like a simplified version of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life. At the end of each chapter is a list of questions that spurred really good conversations with and more questions from our kids. The author’s points are clear and relatable. Most important of all, she is biblical. She also includes apps, websites and other practical info that are helpful for our sanctification.

Our girls are teens/tweens and it’s clear the book is written for them. The author writes as if she’s talking to them. This is why I don’t give this a 5-Star rating. She repeats herself quite often to the point of being irritating. Here are a couple of examples, and there are plenty written like these:

“There are a whole lot of better things to do than just be comfortable - things like telling someone about Jesus, things like serving someone you don’t like, things like fellowship, things like praying with someone, things like confronting a friend about sin, and things like standing up for what’s right.”

“God has given us people to satisfy that desire. He’s given us families. He’s given us friends. He’s given us classmates and coworkers. He’s given us churches.”

If you can get passed this form of writing, it’s an excellent book to read with your kids.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

* I received a free advanced copy of this book from the publisher via #netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I discovered BA Paris, the author of Bring Me Back, last year and enjoyed her previous two books. When I heard she has a new book coming out this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was ecstatic when I received the advanced copy for review.

The author is an excellent writer who keeps you on the edge of your seat. Just like with the previous two, I couldn’t put this book down and actually had to make myself stop so I could get some sleep. One reason I enjoyed her first two books is the author doesn’t use profanity, sex or violence to drive the plot. It takes integrity, skill and courage not to do what mainstream authors do. She stood out to me excellently because of this. Sadly, in this third one, there was one instance of profanity that I hope is not the beginning of her being like the rest.

I loved the book all the way up to about 90% of it. I really had no idea how it was going to end. Then, it started to fall apart. The only character I actually liked ended up not what I had expected and quite disappointed me. The ending is so unfulfilling, though I admit I can’t think of a better way to conclude this complicated story. I just felt a little betrayed after luring me into the story, after I devoted all the time to invest in the characters (some I didn’t like in the beginning, but they kind of grew on me), then only to be given a simplistic, irrational and irritating ending.

I hope Bring Me Back is a glitch in Ms. Paris’ repertoire because I want to keep her in my already very short list of favorite modern fiction authors.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: In His Image by Jen Wilkin

In His Image is the companion/sequel book to Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him, one of my favorite reads last year. While None Like Him covered the attributes of God that are solely His (and applying them to ourselves results in sin), In His Image is all about His communicable characteristics: holy, loving, good, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful and wise. These are the traits we are to pursue after.

As expected, Ms. Wilkin did not disappoint. From the beginning, she engages both my mind and heart as she lays out why we need to study who God is. Yes, because He is God and desires us to know Him. But even more precise, He formed us in His image and the more we are like Him, the more we glorify Him. But how are we to become more like Him if we don’t know what He’s like?

Ms. Wilkin presents both the biblical/theological basis and practical applications from knowing God’s character. From the beginning, the author gives an insightful application to the pursuit of these godly characters. Theology, or the study of God, is not just a heady topic, but as explained by this book, could be and should be manifested in our everyday life.

One example is through our decision-making, something even the seasoned believers often struggle with. We have all been guilty of treating God’s will as something elusive and a mystery to be solved. Ms Wlkins has a clearer solution (which is also Dr. John MacArthur’s point in his book, Found: God’s Will),

“For the believer wanting to know God’s will for her life, the first question to pose is not ‘What should I do?’ but ‘Who should I be?’...What does it profit me to make the right choice if I’m still the wrong person?...The hope of the Gospel in our sanctification is not simply that we would make better choices, but that we would become better people....What is God’s will for your life? Put simply, that you would be like Christ.”

Each chapter covers an attribute and comes with a list of Bible verses for mediation, questions to ponder and a prayer suggestion. My favorite chapter is perhaps the one on God being truthful. It’s a great resource for both personal and group study. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher to review, but will buy copies of it to give away to my friends and family. I plan to study the book with my daughters, who enjoyed going through None Like Him with me.

*I received an advanced copy from the publisher through #netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Gospel Comes With a House Key

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via #netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have been looking forward to reading this book; first, because the author is one I’ve admired from afar ever since I read her first book, Confessions of an Unlikely Convert; second, because hospitality is a ministry dear to my heart. I had high expectations for this book; and sadly, it slightly disappoints. Perhaps I’m being nit picky and I apologize if I sound harsh, but I need to give my honest review. It is perplexing because though I do not love the book, I do not have a problem recommending it to others. (I gave it a 4* on netgalley bec of this).

I’m not sure if this is promoted as such, but it is part memoir, part theology lesson, part christian living kind of book. Interwoven are the theological basis, biblical illustrations and personal story about hospitality. Mrs. Butterfield is a good writer and could very well be the most qualified to talk about hospitality, but I still find issues in the book that I cannot give it a 5-Star rating.

These issues are not theological in nature, so I can still in good conscience recommend the book. For sure, it is highly engaging, saturated with Scripture, and convicting to the core. I’ve had to stop several times to repent for past sins in the area of hospitality and pray for God’s grace to help me a better hostess.

I cried reading about her tumultuous relationship with her mother. I especially love that she encourages us to not idolize safety and security, something American Christians are obsessed with. We need to live our ordinary lives radically and one way we do that is through hospitality. Here are some favorite quotes:

I know I can’t save anyone. Jesus alone saves, and all I do is show up. Show up we must.

Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.

Christians must learn to practice radically ordinary hospitality not only as the hosts of this world but, perhaps more importantly, as its despised guests. Let’s face it: we have become unwelcome guests in this post-Christian world.

God calls us to make sacrifices that hurt so that others can be served and maybe even saved. We are called to die. Nothing less.

The job of an ally makes the cross lighter, not by erecting or supporting laws that oppose God’s law, but by being good company in the bearing of its weight.

Now for the disappointing are just a few:

Perhaps this is unavoidable when writing a memoir, and I have a sensitivity to humble-bragging because of my own pride problems, but I find her constant use of her own personal triumphs in hospitality as a little irksome. I don’t want to judge her motives, but it gets old when I read one hospitable act by the author after another. She did use other people’s examples, but it’s mostly about her and her family’s sacrifice and good works. This is especially interesting because she talks highly of her husband who would not “tarnish by bragging about it (one’s coming to faith through their hospitality) on a blog post or on Facebook. Kent is a Christian man. Christian men do not steal glory from God. This is the kind of news that moves mountains, something to be addressed in the sacred moment of table fellowship.”

Her schedule seems unmaintainable. Doing intentional ministry every day could exhaust even the most devoted Christian. As a minister’s wife, I understand that being in full-time ministry is a 24/7 kind of job, and opportunities to serve could come at any moment. But her way is to have something planned every day. Maybe these are assumed, but I ask her, When does she devote time alone with her husband? When does she foster one on one time with her kids? It is hard to imagine she has time for them just by reading about her schedule.

One of the characters she mentions in the book is Hank who starts as a grumpy neighbor and becomes a friend. Later on, it is found out he was leading a secret criminal life. I understand and admire the author’s compassion for her friend, but her intent focus on this made her question the fairness of his incarceration, made her forget his serious crimes that hurt a lot of people. His sins are somewhat downplayed. Yes, as a Christian, he has been forgiven, but he still has to face the consequences of his sins.

She quotes and uses as a good example a Catholic priest who “regarded hospitality as a spiritual movement, one that is possible only when loneliness finds its spiritual refreshment in solitude, when hostility resolves itself in hospitality, and when illusion is manifested in prayer.” This sounds mystical and, as an ex-Catholic, I seriously have an issue promoting any of them.

I found two typos: principal when she meant principle, tails instead of tales.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: The Bully Pulpit by Goodwin

The Bully Pulpit is actually three stories in one: the biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and the history of McClure Magazine, the original investigative publication that Teddy labeled as “muckraker journalism.”

The writing is well done. I learned so much about these two former presidents. Taft served as Governor of the Philippines after the US defeated the Spaniards who colonized the Islands for centuries. I’m Filipino and this part of the book is the most eye-opening to me. Taft was an honorable and decent man who, along with his wife, truly valued the dignity of the Filipino people. He went out of his way to secure the way for Philippine independence. In return, the Filipino people revered and respected him.

I most specially loved reading the love notes they sent to and received from their wives. Jane Austen would have had a competition in Taft who wrote romantic notes to his wife Nellie:

While still pursuing her -
“I love you Nellie,” he declared. “I love you for all that you are. I love you for your noble consistent character . . . for all that you are, for all that you hope to be. . . . Oh how I will work and strive to be better and do better, how I will labor for our joint advancement if only you will let me. You will be my companion, my love and my life....My love for you grew out of a friendship, intimate and of long standing. That friendship of course was founded on a respect and admiration for your high character, your sweet womanly qualities and your intellectual superiority over any woman I know and for that quality in you which is called sympathy but I call it self forgetting companionableness. . . . Much as I should love to have you love me now and say so now, there is proud satisfaction I feel in that such a heart as yours can not be won in a moment.”

After a short separation -
“I can not tell you what a comfort it is to me to think of you as my wife and helpmeet,” he declared. “I measure every woman I meet with you and they are all found wanting. Your character, your independence, your straight mode of thinking, your quiet planning, your loyalty, your sympathy when I call for it (as I do too readily) your affection and love (for I know I have it) all these Darling make me happy only to think about them.”

William Taft talking to his father about his future wife:

“The more I knew her,” Will told his father, “the deeper grew my respect for her, the warmer my friendship until it unconsciously ripened into a feeling that she was indispensable to my happiness. . . . I know you will love her when you come to know her and will appreciate as I do her noble character and clear cut intellect and well informed mind. She has been teaching for three years and has been no expense at all to her father. She has done this without encouragement by her family who thought the work too hard for her because she chafed under the conventionalities of society which would keep a young lady only for evening entertainments. She wanted something to do in life. . . . Her eagerness for knowledge of all kinds puts me to shame. Her capacity for work is wonderful.”

Roosevelt said of his first wife, “It almost frightens me, in spite of my own happiness,” he revealed in his diary, “to think that perhaps I may not make her happy; but I shall try so hard; and if ever a man love woman I love her.”

To his second wife, Edith, “I do not think my eyes are blinded by affection,” the president told a friend, “when I say that she has combined to a degree I have never seen in any other woman the power of being the best of wives and mothers, the wisest manager of the household, and at the same time the ideal great lady and mistress of the White House.”

Romanticism aside, this is a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in early 20th century history.

My Grandpa, who served as a solider during WWII under the US Army, once said, “The Spaniards came and treated us like slaves. The Japanese came and treated us like animals. The Americans came and treated us like human beings with dignity.”

The book confirmed just as what my Grandpa said. America is guilty of many things, but it has been a champion for democracy and I have greatly benefited from that myself.