Book review: Revelation: The Way It Happened

by Lee Harmon


I happened to stumble on this review of my first book on Goodreads. I guess this is the power of electronic publishing … it reached all the way to Africa!

And speaking of Goodreads, a group of us will be discussing this book in a forum shortly. I’d love to have a few more participants! If you’d like to join, check it out at, and if you need a cheap paper or free electronic copy of the book to share in the discussion, contact me at


My wife leant me her Kindle to read “Revelation – the way it happened” as I have long had an interest in comparative religion.

I found this story to have an interesting premise and to be intellectually challenging, pressing me to think out of the box with the way the well-researched scholarly material was mixed with telling a story. It did take me some time to get used to the modern voices of the main characters. However, as I am used to legal texts and non-fiction reading material about the different religions & their texts, this may not bother another reader.

While an index might have helped, reading this book was an engaging experience and I recommend “Revelation – the way it happened” to any reader who wants a different perspective on one of the most complex books in the Christian Bible.

Dr Beric Croome
Advocate of the High Court of South Africa
BCom. BProc. LLB. CTA.
Higher Diploma in Tax Law (cum laude).

Book review: Mylo

by Sheila Jaxland


Ever wonder how donkeys got the sign of the cross on their backs? Wonder about it no more.

I’m a sucker for Christian children’s picture books, if they aren’t preachy. This one is perfect.

Mylo, an abandoned donkey, hears a voice from heaven instructing him to go west. So he sets off at a gallop, travelling for two days and two nights. He’s found and stabled by Joseph, the soon-to-be father of the world’s Savior. This cute little book tells the story of Jesus, from birth to ascension, from the perspective of Jesus’ best friend from birth: Mylo, his loving, loyal donkey. Mylo doesn’t seem to understand very much about what’s going around on around him—hey, he’s just a donkey—but I suspect in the end, he understands as much as any of us need to.

Sheila’s tale is respectful, heart-warming, and biblical (if you’re able to pretend an adorable little donkey followed Jesus everywhere he went). And yes, donkeys go to heaven, too.

Book review: The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero

by Joel Baden


This book hooked me from the beginning. Definitely a fun read, especially during the beginning of David’s career.

Uncovering the historical David is no small challenge—more difficult than pinpointing the historical Jesus, I believe—but Baden makes a valiant effort. His research is fraught with speculation, and he certainly has no qualms about taking a controversial stand, but who knows? He may be right more often than he is wrong. The point is that we simply cannot know; we can only put our reasoning caps on and try to make sense of the tangled story in the Bible, for that’s all we have to go on. So keep a few grains of salt handy when you open the cover on this one.

It is definitely a fascinating journey. Baden’s picture of David is not very flattering. Our favorite Biblical king comes off as a power-hungry scoundrel.  This is the story of a wilderness bandit who wields rogue diplomacy, military prowess, and ruthlessness en route to subjugating a kingdom for himself, ruled from his cultic center in the conquered Jerusalem.

While David’s accomplishment was astounding—unifying the diverse villages and peoples of Judah, and then stealing the northern kingdom (Israel) out from under Saul—one struggles to imagine him a national ruler. At least not on the same terms as Solomon, the next king of Israel. Saul ruled Israel humbly from “under a tree,” then David doubled its size and built a palace and worship center around the ark of the covenant, but it was Solomon who elevated Israel into a glorious kingdom on the backs of slave laborers. This unlikely trio would build a monarchy out of an unruly wilderness that would last for four centuries.

Book review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

by Reza Aslan


Captivating! Reza is a good story teller who holds your attention on every topic. His perception of Jesus differs considerably from mine, but that’s part of what made the reading interesting for me.

Aslan portrays Jesus as a revolutionary predicting a violent overthrow of the current government, both Roman and Judean. Woe to the corrupt ruling class, because the Kingdom of God is coming, with chilling destruction! Aslan points out that in the political turmoil of the first century, calling oneself the Messiah was tantamount to declaring war on Rome, and thus he assumes Jesus followed the mold of every other Jewish messianic figure of the time. The apparent failure of this portrayal is that the Gospels take pains to highlight the daftness of the apostles and their dream for a military overthrow, repeatedly redefining the Kingdom of God instead as a peaceful grassroots infiltration. Aslan recognizes this, and insists that the tone of the Gospels reflect post-war attitudes of complacency and cooperation with Rome, after the nation’s zeal had been stamped out by defeat. “Thus began the long process of transforming Jesus from a revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a peaceful spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter.”

Indeed, this process is even longer than I imagined, for in Aslan’s opinion, it begins even before the Gospels. It begins back at the time of Stephen’s stoning. “What Stephen cries out in the midst of his death throes is nothing less than the launch of a wholly new religion … buried with [Stephen] under the rubble of stones is the last trace of the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth.” Aslan believes Paul also taught that Jesus was God on earth, so the high Christology of today’s Christianity began quite early after Jesus’ death.

But let’s get back to Jesus the Revolutionary. Says Aslan, “Of all the stories told about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, there is one … that, more than any other word or deed, helps reveal who Jesus was and what Jesus meant.” So differently do Aslan and I view Jesus that I actually imagined he was thinking about Jesus feeding the multitude. He wasn’t, of course. He was talking about when Jesus violently attacks the Temple. Fascinating how different Jesus can look, depending upon which side of him you hold up to the light. Aslan’s book is one-sided, a very well-written page-turner about Jesus, the Zealot.

This is not to say that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.”

When Jesus holds up a penny and says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s,” he is not encouraging an aesthetic life unhindered by the cares of the world. Says Aslan, Jesus’ answer is “as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots.” Jesus says, give the coin with its abominable picture of Caesar back to Rome, and take back the land which God has given to us. This is not instruction to get along; this is instruction to draw a dividing line between heathen and God-follower; a line between Judea and Rome.

I believe Aslan contains a few errors in his research, but they are minor and do not distract from the conclusion. Of greater importance is recognizing where Aslan’s own strong opinions come into play. Yet this is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend, as both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Book review: The Gatekeepers

by Stephen Moss


Here is a novel that will be talked about for a long time. Moss doesn’t pull punches as he exposes religion’s dark underbelly, and readers may feel him teetering on the edge between insightful and cynical. I vote for both, and the blend is captivating.

Two primary themes run throughout the book. In a conference at Georgetown University, scholars debate the origins of the Jesus movement and a discovery within the pages of the Bible that may rock the Christian world. Biblical evidence begins to mount that Paul of Tarsus appropriated Jesus for his own purpose, and Moss leads us slowly to this conclusion.

Moss’s Jesus is apocalyptic and his Paul is capitalistic. Jesus’ message may be hopelessly mired in first-century dreams of a rebellion against Rome, but Paul found a way to turn Jesus into a prophet, a timeless discovery which continues to be refined by evangelical entrepreneurs to this very day.

As the conference discussion ensues, in another part of the world we meet Reverend Hamilton, a colorful, explosive manipulator driven by greed. He epitomizes the end product of the course set in motion two millennia ago by Paul. Hamilton is hopelessly corrupt, yet believable as he wreaks havoc among all who surround him. But deception and indifference take their toll, and the Reverend’s world swirls inevitably toward disaster.

Moss’s follow-the-money Bible research leads to an unorthodox blend of conservative and liberal scholarship, but while his conclusion is highly controversial, it is also undeniably thought-provoking. The fiction is superb: a captivating plot, vibrant characters, and a fascinating, timely topic.

I guarantee The Gatekeepers will hold you spellbound.

Book review: When the Kings Come Marching In

by Richard J. Mouw


This is a 2002 revised edition that I bought out of curiosity because of its subtitle: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. There are so many strange theories about the New Jerusalem floating around that I felt it would be a relief to read what a professor had to say, based on the vision of Isaiah that kicked off the whole dream in the first place.

It’s fascinating to me that Mouw matter-of-factly assumes his readers agree literally with what the scriptures say about an afterlife, on earth, in the New Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem is unquestionably described in both Isaiah and Revelation as a city on earth, and that’s how Mouw reads it. Yet Mouw speculates about whether household pets have souls, and what our heavenly bodies will be like. He wonders what it really means when scripture says the ships of Tarshish shall come to the city, bringing cedars from Lebanon. There must be present-day analogies to these things, since this is presumably still in our future, so he goes searching for the “proud and lofty” things of present day cultures to make sense of ancient promises. Mouw assumes his readers picture heaven as real, physical, in the future, and on earth, not up behind the clouds.

Of course Mouw is right and the Bible does describe the New Jerusalem as a city on earth. Nobody who carefully reads Isaiah chapter 60 (the book’s proof text), or the last couple of chapters of Revelation, could conclude otherwise. Isaiah dreams of a day when God will be back in control of this world, and Revelation posits that it will happen in conjunction with a bodily resurrection to live again on earth—using imagery that most lay Christians today correlate with heaven. Hence the provocative title of Mouw’s book: “When the Kings Come Marching In.” Both Isaiah and Revelation describe kings of the nations visiting the New Jerusalem.

That’s an intriguing picture, isn’t it? What are these pagan kings doing in “heaven”? Or do they come from Christian nations? Are they all saved? This puzzle highlights the complexity of trying to read the Old Testament from a Christian standpoint, since when Isaiah made that promise, there was no Christian concept of “saved” or “unsaved.” Mouw speculates that the kings come to Jerusalem for a different kind of transaction, rather than to be accepted among the saved. Perhaps they bring the “wealth of the nations” to God’s people. Or perhaps they come (presumably against their will) to be judged, because justice must be done and God’s people must be avenged publicly.

There is much more to the book, of course; I’m merely highlighting the topic of the book’s title. I find this book to be a curious blending of ancient and modern beliefs, and wonder if it doesn’t do violence to both by trying to merge both together like pieces of a puzzle.

Book review: I’m Only Human After All

by Alex Rogers


This is an autobiography of author Alex Rogers’ years in middle school and early high school. When presented to me for review, it was billed as a book about bullying, with a Christian flavor. I was intrigued, as combating bullying is a hot topic in many churches today.

I didn’t really find it very intense. The bullying, while certainly worse than anything I experienced in my school years, was not enough to send anyone all Columbine … and Alex didn’t face it totally by himself, nor was he totally cowed. So, to set the proper flavor, let me quote from the forward: Alex writes, “[this is] the story of my early adolescent life and the issues that all of us can relate to at that stage in our lives. At some time we have all been in an awkward stage until, one day, we surface as something more.”

So what is the Christian bent? Minor spoiler alert: curiously, Alex is rescued from the bullying by an act of God. I’ll give you a hint: it occurred in 2005, in New Orleans. A short interlude in the book tells about Alex attending church as the hurricane neared, hearing from the pulpit about a “cleansing” that God was sending. Alex and his family evacuated, and when they returned, the high school circumstances had changed. It’s all presented as a sort of odd coincidence, just one of the ways the bumps in life get mysteriously ironed out, so I’m uncertain if we’re really supposed to read much into the fiery “cleansing” sermon.

The writing is simple, easy for young readers to follow (it would make a great young adult book), and it holds your attention. I enjoyed sharing Alex’s young life and getting to know him. Beyond that, given my own stage in life (I’m 52), it didn’t make a deep impression … my bullies have all grown up and my kids are out of high school.

Book review: God In Slow Motion

by Mike Nappa


Not the type of book I usually read—it’s more inspirational than educational, more conservative than liberal—but this one is really good. The author promises that through ten “lessons” (events from the New Testament) he will take you on a journey, “traveling the road of Christ’s life in search of the underneath things.” That’s what Nappa means by “God in slow motion;” slowing down the New Testament stories frame-by-frame to catch a glimpse of the real people who came in contact with Jesus.

Many of the ten “lessons” are borderline oxymorons, highlighting the complex simplicity (see, I can do it too!) of God’s nature. Beautiful sorrow, brutal love, insulting greatness. Mysteries, each, and God loves a mystery. Like the mystery of God’s unexplained entrance as a baby rather than a warrior, or the mystery of how things all seem to turn out alright when God is in control.

Do not miss chapter 5, “Stolen Miracles.” The unnamed woman with an issue of blood will earn a special place in your heart, as she tries to steal a miracle. She fights through a crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. The coup succeeds, the getaway doesn’t.

Imagine her fear when Jesus goes looking for her in the crowd. “Virtue” has gone out of him, and he’s determined to find out where it went. But if she is exposed, it will not only bring her embarrassing malady to light; it will inform dozens, maybe more, that she has broken the law and made the crowd unclean by brushing up against them. Yes, she was a legal outcast, required to keep her distance from people. Things are about to get ugly, right?

No. Not with Jesus in control. Nor will it in your journey with Jesus. As Nappa encourages in the last line of his book, “May you always be found holding the nail-scarred hand!”

Book review: Consider the Birds

by Debbie Blue


Inspirational, educational, and fun. You’ve probably never looked at the Bible from this angle. When Jesus says “consider the birds” (Matthew 6:26, Luke 12:24), is he giving us a lesson that we can sink our teeth into?

It turns out the Bible is chock full of birds, with their odd characteristics, legends and lessons. Debbie Blue is a pastor and a bird watcher who brings our avian friends alive, in both their splendorous glory and their disgusting habits. Doves, vultures, eagles, ravens and more fill the pages of a guide book that helps us see God, Jesus, and ourselves with penetrating clarity.

Bet you didn’t know the ostrich is in the Bible. Hidden in the book of Job, it appears as a despised and unwanted companion, a picture of Job himself once he is knocked off his high horse. Or consider the Pelican, listed as an abomination in the Levitical code, but honored as a picture of Jesus by the early church fathers.

Both lighthearted and serious, yet easy to read, this recommendation is a no-brainer.

Book review: Paul and Judaism Revisited

by Preston M. Sprinkle


This is one of those books that you are going to love if you’re intrigued with this stuff (the New Perspective on Paul), and hate if you’re not. I ate it up. It’s a relatively hard read, even though the Greek language is kept to a minimum. Beginners in Pauline theology may feel overwhelmed, but more studied theologians will be captivated.

The question is, where did Paul get his ideas, and exactly what does he teach regarding salvation? Is salvation conditional upon works, or is it a gift by the grace of God? A quick scan will uncover a lot more works-based verses in the Pauline writings than you might think. Perhaps there are two instances requiring salvation: the initial inbreaking of the Kingdom, fulfilling the prophecies of acceptance by faith/grace, and the final judgment, in which the prize must be earned? Does that mean God’s gift incurs an obligation, and is that obligation tied to the works of the Law? What exactly is Paul’s hangup with the Law, anyway? Sprinkle admits that the one single verse that set him on this journey is found in the Law of Moses:

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD. –Leviticus 18:5

After a review of the Old Testament’s two conflicting ideas about restoration—Deuteronomic, which requires human repentance, and prophetic, in which God’s promise is unconditional—Sprinkle gears up to the New Testament and Paul’s take on salvation: justification and human agency, the role of the eschatological Spirit, and anthropology. He compares Paul with the Qumran community, noting their similarities and differences. (There are some short comparisons with other Judaic writings, but the major focus is on the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

It’s worth noting that Sprinkle is a devoted Christian who does not consider Qumran writings to be inspired. Thus, determining the true flavor of Paul’s message, especially where it contrasts other Judaic thinking, is of fundamental importance. The research is very scholarly and convincing, and the footnotes are legion and quite interesting.

Definitely recommended.

Book review: Questioning Your Way to Faith

by Peter Kazmaier


Al, a nerdy chemist, and Floyd, an atheist jock, share a friendly and respectful conversation about God as they enjoy the wilderness together. Along the way, they discuss moral purpose, evolution (Al is a proponent of intelligent design), the problem of evil, neurochemistry, and causality. The discussion of Kalam’s Argument, which posits that a infinite regression of causes cannot satisfactorily explain today’s existence, is presented with clarity—that’s perhaps the best part of the book for me. You may have to be another nerd to understand the math for that discussion, simple as it is, but don’t worry: this is the only place in the book where you’ll find mathematical symbols. The truth is—and this is the real value of Peter’s book, and the reason I recommend it—Kazmaier has a way of explaining things in simple, comparative terms so that they sink in.

The title of the book invokes the question of whether or not “questioning faith” is an oxymoron. Al, the nerdy chemist, insists that he came by faith through questioning, and Floyd insists that faith is a blind (and rather inexcusable) state of refusing to question.

A group of us are discussing this book in an apologetics forum, but the truth is, I’m not sure I classify the book as apologetic, simply because of its too-friendly tone. Kazmaier seems more focused on defending the reasonableness of theism than proving the existence of a particular God. His goal seems to be to help atheists agreeably disagree with theists. That may simply be Kazmaier’s nonaggressive style rising to the surface, but it seems appropriate to me. This book does what is possible, presenting the logic for believing in a creator of sorts, and then in the final pages bringing up personal experience to seal the deal. It is Al’s “concrete experiences with the Lord Jesus Christ” that convince him that Christianity is the proper choice among theistic options.

Fun book, all the way through. But do I actually agree with all of Al’s arguments, or all of Floyd’s? Of course not. Religion has a slippery way of evading conclusions … thank God.

Book review: Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs

by Brett T. Robinson


A fascinating book. Technology is enveloping us in a new religious revolution, and Steve Jobs’ Apple Corporation, with its cult following, is leading the way. We gaze adoringly at media screens for hours a day, gingerly touching their magical user interface designed to help us overcome the linear thinking we were raised with. Jobs, by trusting in his esoteric brand of Eastern religion, has turned iEverythings into a sublime and transcendental experience, connecting humanity worldwide.

This is not a book about religion; at least not in the traditional sense. If you ride the current of the book, though, you realize that Jobs has led us into a new religion for the information age. A comment he made once after traveling from Delhi to the Himalayas, shaving his head and participating in various Hindu rituals in search of enlightenment, gets right to the point: “I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together.” It became clear to him that his mission in life was to help develop tools for the mind that would deprogram the Western mentality of linear rationality and formal logic.

For Jobs, technology was more than a tool, it was a way to elevate consciousness. He insisted on manufacturing computers without cooling fans to allow the user to achieve a Zen-like concentration, undistracted by the machine’s noise. His ad campaigns all focus on thinking differently.

Digital technology renders us omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent (the three omni’s attributed to God in the Bible). But is technology ultimately a false god? Are we reaching for the stars or are we shriveling inside? That question is left for you to decide.

Book review: Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods

by Malcolm Jeeves


Thirty pages into this one, I was telling my partner that it wasn’t going to get a good rating. The style is a bit dry for me, the gimmick of presenting the material as a conversation seemed a bit artificial, and I’m no psychologist, so the research references and name-dropping went over my head.

Seventy pages in, I was ready to throw in the towel and scan the rest to write a review.

By the time I finished the book, I was wishing it hadn’t ended so quickly. It took time, but content trumped style.

Malcolm Jeeves examines free will, neuroscience, consciousness, placebos, reductionism, and much more to figure out what makes us human … and what a human being really is. Jeeves is a solid Christian, and his thinking is often flavored by the Bible or by his faith. Nevertheless, by reading this book you may begin to see things differently, through the eyeglasses of a renowned psychologist. You’ll see Alzheimer’s patients differently, you’ll see clinical depression differently.

Dualism doesn’t fit Jeeves’ mindset at all. He presents mind and brain as two aspects of a single unity, and defines soul as a complete you-ness, never described in scripture as a spiritual being trapped within a physical body. Soul and body can no more be separated than mind and brain, and this position is biblical (I believe he’s right).

Thing is, it was Jeeves himself who eventually sold me on the book. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay a book is that it changed my mind about something … and this one did. It made me think. I do now see something different about humans from other primates, and I do have a different understanding of “soul” than before. The bottom line: I learned to trust Jeeves and his research. I cannot quite put my finger on how or why such an intellect came across in the pages of this book as a humble man. But his quiet faith in God is a strong witness, even as he realizes we do not have all the answers.

Book review: Invitation to the New Testament

by Ben Witherington III


This is a beautiful, full-color university text, complete with Further Reading and Study Questions at the end of each section. It’s very well written in Witherington’s usual fascinating prose, though I did uncover a few editing errors.

The book does a very good job of immersing you into the culture of the first century. Praying for daily bread was a normal prayer for most ancients. You’ll get to know the Judaizers well, whom Witherington presents as subversive competitors to Christianity. To an important extent, you’ll need to be open to the possibility of miracles in order to truly understand the writings.

Be aware that you will receive a biased view of the topic. For example, Witherington argues strongly for one of his pet conclusions: that the author and the Beloved Disciple of the Gospel of John is the man Lazarus, who was raised from the dead. He also is a proponent of early (pre-war) writings in nearly all cases, and argues that every book in the Bible was written before the turn of the century. His trust in the church fathers’ testimony and traditional authorship (such as Peter as the author of 1st Peter) flavors his interpretation. Witherington considers none of the New Testament pseudonymous, arguing that it may have been composed by as small a group as these 11 men: Mark, Matthew, Luke, the Beloved Disciple, John of Patmos, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, Apollos, and the compiler of 2 Peter.

This emphasis is both good and bad: I certainly prefer that a scholar boldly present his own conclusions, especially when they are as well-argued as in this book, but a university text is also expected to present other scholarly opinion, so balance is key. I wouldn’t want this to be the only book you read about the New Testament, but I wouldn’t want you to miss it, either!

One topic where I did feel the treatment was too imbalanced was Witherington’s introduction to Paul. For example, he submits the controversial hymn in 1 Corinthians as evidence of Paul’s high Christology. While Witherington does not emphasize the contested epistles as much as he does the agreed-upon authentic writings of Paul, he does at times seem to lean on the atmosphere of those letters, and thus betrays his conservative bent. The end result is that this portion of the book comes off more as an evangelical work than a scholarly one.

However, when Witherington begins to discuss each epistle individually, he does a superb job. Absolutely superb. With an emphasis on rhetorical style, he presents his case for authorship and dating, and fits the texts together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Regarding the Gospels, Witherington displays an odd lack of emphasis on the passion story. That suits me fine; I just found it odd. His treatment of the Gospels focuses more on the teachings of Jesus than on Jesus’ accomplishments.

All in all, though I’ve presented a few negatives, I have no qualms about ranking this textbook as one of the best religious works of 2013. If Ben Witherington writes it, you should read it.

One final note: If you don’t buy the book, at least sneak into a university bookstore and check out the discussion of the Synoptic Problem in the appendix …with its fascinating color visual of duplicate verses.

Book review: Cycles of Salvation History

by Ulrich Utiger


An interesting theology! The idea is that the truths of the Bible repeat in cycles throughout history, culminating in the second coming of Jesus for a final fulfillment.

Utiger begins with the assumption that the Bible is of divine authorship, and then proceeds to make sense of it in light of history and scientific findings. In discussing the creation, for example, he notes that Genesis records the creation of birds before animals, though they actually appeared later in evolutionary history. So the creation story probably merely uses “birds” to refer to the celestial world, and the creation of angels, right? Birds live in a medium representing heaven.

As you can see, not all images in Genesis should be interpreted literally. The snake in the Garden is merely a representation of Satan, and the paradise of Eden was “of course childhood, during which the boy is still free form work and the girl does not yet bring forth children in the pain.”

Transition from one phase to another is significant. Since the sixth day of creation is a transition from land animals to humans, this may be a hint that humans descend from the animal kingdom. (Utinger is not, however, a believer in natural selection. He finds it in opposition to reality: the aim of evolution was to bring forth humankind created in the image of God, so it could hardly have been undirected).

Utiger speculates about Genesis, Daniel, Revelation, and more. An interesting side trip into Marian apparitions rounds out the discussion. This focus on the Blessed Virgin is not coincidental; Utiger has studied Catholic theology and Mariology, and finds apparitions to be supported and predicted by the Bible. For example, read about the apparition of a woman clothed with the sun in Revelation chapter 12.

This is not an easy read, because the author makes a marked attempt to be brief. I got the feeling, as I was reading, that I was barely scraping the surface of a huge topic. Readers: before you dig into the book, take a peek at pages 186 and 187, which show five major eras of time, from the creation of angels to the millennial reign. These eras are further broken down into fourteen different cycles, where each cycle goes through the four stages of peace, sin, judgement, and revival. You will want to refer back to this chart as you read, so that you can get your bearing with each topic Utinger introduces. I discovered the chart about halfway through my reading, and things began to fall into place with that visual, making the rest of the book easier to comprehend.

From my perspective, I think the book is fun, and filled with interesting tidbits, but I can’t get behind the theology … or any theology which treats the Bible like a divine puzzle to be solved more than a collection of human experiences grasping toward God. Read it for an interesting perspective of salvation history, and decide for yourself.

Book review: The Problem with Christ

by Christopher Gorton


Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with Jesus. What irks Gorton is the way we misuse the title Christ.

“Christ” is a transliteration, not a translation. That means it is a made-up word replacing the Greek word Christos, meant to sound the same rather than provide meaning. So, we’re left on our own to figure out what it means.

Unfortunately, we’ve guessed wrong, aided by horrible translations. We’ve turned Christ into a last name. It’s not a name at all, but a title; it means Lord, or Messiah, or Anointed. Or, better yet, Gorton argues that the most accurate and meaningful translation of all is the simple word King. He is so serious about this that he requests we drop the title Christ, for those who claim to truly follow Him should no longer use a meaningless term.  Better to replace “Jesus Christ” with “King Jesus” in our speech, or at the very least insert the definitive article “the”: Jesus the Christ. 

Christopher isn’t suggesting we degrade Jesus by pretending he is just any old king—he is the prophesied king of the age of God’s rule—but it’s still helpful to understand what it means for Jesus to be anointed (for that’s the most literal translation of “Christ”). It means to be proclaimed the son of God, a king over God’s people, just as it did all through the Old Testament. Gorton points out that King David saw himself as the messiah and the son of God; the christos of his era. Moving on to the second half of the Bible, then, Gorton concludes that “in every occurrence of christos in the New Testament, it was the author’s intention that it be understood as the title king, and that christos was never understood as a name!”

I struggled a bit deciding my rating for this book, even though I enjoyed reading it a great deal, and finally settled upon a full five-star review. Yet I have two problems with the book.

First, Gorton is right, and I know no scholars who will argue. His thesis is no startling new revelation; maybe I’m betraying my nerdiness a bit, but I should think that anyone who reads books like this one already knows that Christ means King, and when Christians called Jesus the Christ, they were hailing him as God’s anointed king. So, while Gorton writes as if this is a controversial discovery, he is actually preaching to the choir a bit, though his research is thorough and appreciated.

My second problem is that, even though Gorton is right, I don’t like it. It’s true, the word “king” describes precisely how many viewed Jesus, because that was the dream the Jews held for their Messiah: they wanted a David-like king to set the world right again. While there was much argument over what exactly it meant back in the first century to call Jesus “king,” and what the kingdom was supposed to be like, just take a gander at the book of Revelation if you don’t think any first-century Christians wanted a literal, this-worldly, political figure as their Messiah. Christians in the first century were adamant: they would not bow down to Caesar; they had no king but Jesus. But to me, “King Jesus” sounds too earthly, too literal and restrictive, describing the very type of king that Jesus refused to be. I’ll compromise with Jesus the Christ.

Book review: 31 Rays of Hope

by Hollie Marie


Hollie’s little devotional gift book is simple, practical, and encouraging.

I seldom review devotionals, preferring edgy, thought-provoking Bible topics. Inspirational writings are not really a good fit for my agnostic bent. Hollie’s encouragement abounds with suggestions like “Replace the word ‘faith’ with the word ‘know’ in your thinking (do not say “I have faith that God will provide” but “I know God will provide”) and “Do not be swayed by non-believers or those of little faith.” These instructions, I don’t really know what to do with.

Yet I am quite aware of my own occasional need of uplifting material, and I am certain Hollie’s booklet will strike a chord with most Christians, providing a month’s worth of gentle reflection. Most daily passages are made up of a Bible verse or two, a few thoughts, a prayer of thanksgiving, and a chapter of reference for further reading. They seem to grow more graceful with each day, generating a sort of quiet godly strength, and culminate in this important reminder:

God is Love.

Book review: I don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek


I enjoyed this one a lot. The authors’ argument for the existence of God can basically be condensed to two parts:

1. Logic dictates that we live in a theistic universe—we are created and watched over by an all-powerful being who lives outside of space and time.

2. The Bible serves as convincing evidence that this being is the God of Christianity.

I hardly agreed with all of the building blocks in the argument, yet I found this to be maybe the best apologetics book I’ve read. The presentation is very organized and steps logically from point to point. It’s clear the authors have had a great deal of experience in debate, and this book has become somewhat of a flagship for amateur apologists. While the title lends itself to easy derision by opponents, it’s a lot better argued than I anticipated.

There is a drawback to building argument upon argument, of course: If perchance you have a weak foundation, the whole shebang comes tumbling down. For example, the authors’ proof for reliable eyewitness testimony depends strongly upon traditional conservative authorship of the Bible; this depends strongly upon early dating of the synoptic gospels; early dating of these gospels depends strongly upon dating the book of acts to the 7th decade (since Luke precedes Acts, and Mark precedes Luke); and early dating of Acts depends upon the assumption that, had it been written later, the author surely would have discussed the death of Paul and the destruction of the Temple. Thus, a great deal rides on an argument from silence.

The arguments are engaging and thought-provoking, though not without flaws, and will in many instances require research and hard analysis to see the flaws. Thus, it was a lot of fun to read and took me quite a while. Some arguments are subjective in nature, and some are (hooray!) objective fact. In particular, I devoured two long lists in the book: one of 84 verifiable historical references in the book of Acts, and one of 59 attestations to the historical authenticity of John.

The result is a five-star review for interesting writing and for making me think, even when I disagree. Consider this the official end of the book review—what follows are a few examples where critical thinking prevents my full agreement with the authors. :)

* The book argues for the existence of a God-given Moral Law, written on the hearts of all people. I’ve never grasped how this argument could support Christianity. Consider the extreme disagreement between Christians today over whether or not gays should be allowed to share in a loving relationship. Or the disagreement not long ago over whether slavery was moral. If such a moral law exists, Christianity may be the religion having the hardest time figuring out what it is.

* The book argues that the New Testament was written before 70 A.D. because it makes no point of telling the story of the destruction of Jerusalem. This is not quite true; the Gospels do mention how the Christians fled Jerusalem in the war, though they do so from a pre-war perspective. But why do no other Bible books mention so earth-shattering an event? Probably because it WAS so earth-shattering! Remember, these authors were not writing to preserve history; they were writing to share the message of a new beginning with their comrades. What Christian in the first century, having lived through the war, needs a reminder that the old world had passed away, and a new world begun?

* The book repeatedly insists that there is no evidence whatsoever for macroevolution. But it doesn’t matter how often you repeat this mantra, it is a lie. There exists plenty of evidence for macroevolution, and though there are a limited number of transitional fossil records, the number we have is quite consistent with current theories of how species evolved. I’ve written about this many times, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say I can’t figure out why so many Christian apologists are hung up on evolution.

Book review: Billy Graham in Quotes

by Franklin Graham with Donna Lee Toney


This is a collection of quotes, taken from the writings of Billy Graham over sixty years, collected by his son Franklin. What better way is there to get to know this special man, than from the horse’s mouth? Mr. Graham and I share few beliefs, yet I have a great deal of respect for him, and I really enjoyed browsing through this collection of quotes, feeling the simplicity, faith, and urgency of his message.

Following are a few examples which shed light on the type of person Billy Graham was:

On the Bible: “The Bible is the only Book in the world that predicts the future. The Bible is more modern than tomorrow morning’s newspaper.”

On Christianity: “We cannot inherit Christianity … God has no grandchildren.

On the end times: “We see the storm clouds gathering and events taking place that herald the second coming of Jesus Christ.” “Events are moving rapidly toward some sort of climax.”

On Eternity: “Heaven is real and hell is real, and eternity is but a breath away.”

On Heaven: “My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”

As I read back over the quotes I highlighted, and select only the half-dozen I find most revealing, I realize that I was most inspired by Billy Graham’s quiet faith in the future. From this, I present one more quote:

“I have read the last page of the bible. It is all going to turn out all right.”

Book review: Rapture’s Rain

by Chris Pennington


What a great storyteller! Pennington has written a page-turner, and though the production is not the most professional, I guarantee the plot line will keep you engrossed.

In Pennington’s story, mass hunger follows an energy drop after about a third of the population simply disappears. Is it the rapture? Is an apocalypse on the horizon? Four friends gather for survival, and try to make sense of Scripture and science.

This is not another Left Behind lookalike. Pennington is not a Bible scholar, and if you’re hoping to learn about the end times, you’ll be disappointed. This is an unorthodox look at faith, at life’s simple purpose, and ultimately at good and evil. A little sappy, a little evangelical, but definitely recommended.

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