All posts by durough

Blessed to be a witness.

Book Review: The Call of the Swamp, by Davide Cali and Marco Somà

The Call of the SwampThe Call of the Swamp by author Davide Cali and artist Marco Somà is one of the most down-to-earth-fantasy children’s books I’ve ever read. Let’s be honest; most children’s books are fantasy—intentionally or not—whether in characters and environment, story, or both. We often offer children encouraging illusions (delusions?) of grandeur and present everything with a happy ending tied up in a pretty bow of one’s choice color. While The Call of the Swamp is certainly fantasy—a kid with gills is picked up in a swamp and adopted by a couple that can’t have children—it leaves plenty of room for personal experience and inquiry. Not all lives are the same, and this simple story doesn’t try to force all adopted kids into one box. Cali tells a story of a child who looks different from his parents and who eventually recognizes his differences in a real way and longs to discover and experience his past. And while he eventually makes his way back to his adoptive parents, there is no clear answer for how one must feel or what one must do. Like I said, it leaves a lot of room for adopted kids and parents to talk and wrestle with their context. Wonderful.

Somà’s artwork is brilliant and will spark the imagination of older children who will recognize things not to be as they really are but represent something much bigger. Again, we have here further fodder for conversation.

I certainly recommend this one.

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers via NetGalley.

Book Review: Practicing Christian Education: An Introduction for Ministry, by Mark A. Maddix and James Riley Estep, Jr.

Practicing Christian EducationIn Practicing Christian Education: An Introduction for Ministry, authors Mark A. Maddix and James Riley Estep, Jr. appear to be primarily concerned with Wesleyan tradition and ecclesiology in combination with a business model ecclesiology. While the stated purpose(s) of the text are unclear and sometimes contradictory, it is apparent that the book is geared toward those who are looking to be paid “Education Ministers/Pastors” in large congregations who fit the stated models with significant budgets. The book is not about Christian education in a broad sense (e.g., teaching various subjects from and with a Christian manner and perspective), and many will likely find it confusing and unhelpful if looking to it for any purpose other than that stated above.

Assessing it for what it is, and not for what I thought it might be, the text falls short of being very helpful. Disjointed, redundant, contradictory, and unclear throughout, I would not recommend it for the seminary students the authors hope will read it. While there are certainly helpful moments, largely by way of quoting others’ material, I do not find them to be justifiable reasons for wading through the whole. If I had not agreed to review the book, I would have stopped reading after chapter six (out of seventeen) because it felt like I was simply being taken for a ride with no purpose or destination in sight—it didn’t get much better.

While I concur with the authors that churches need to take seriously what, how, and when they teach so that all can (and will!) mature in their faith and life in the kingdom of God, I did not find this book as a whole to be a clear and helpful tool for educating those leading, guiding, and/or undertaking that task.

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

Book Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Word of God, by Eugene H. Peterson

As Kingfishers Catch FireAs Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Word of God is a collection of sermons presented to Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) in Harford County, Maryland, by Eugene H. Peterson between the years of 1962 and 1991. While these sermons have been organized according to their relation to major biblical authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul and John of Patmos), they are completely separate sermons with no real connection to one another—neither chronologically or contextually—and no dates are given for their original presentation. This lack of context can make reading a little strange when events are referenced in relative terms (e.g., “A little more than a year ago, three men were orbiting the moon in a space capsule,” [p.8]), some being easier than others to determine the general time of writing. Each sermon is only around six pages long, making them quick and easy reads without too much depth and generally a single overarching point to be made at the end, and the lack of any real connection of one to another easily lends themselves to being chosen and read according to title and/or scripture reference listed in the Contents pages. I imagine some will find this to be very helpful, while others like myself will be left wanting more substance. In my opinion, this could and should have also been released as a series of blog posts free to be read online.

 

*I received a pre-published, uncorrected proof of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age, by Jeff Goins

Real Artists Don't StarveIn Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age, author Jeff Goins encourages artists of all varieties to forget what he calls “the myth of the starving artist” and start making steps toward being a “thriving artist.” I imagine many readers may find at least one thing helpful, motivating, and/or inspiring, but the work in its entirety is often contradictory and unconvincing—not once is it demonstrated that anyone ever has or will travel the entire path anecdotally articulated by Goins. While many aspiring and current career artists (emphasis on career) will relate to one story or another, careful readers will see how data has been cherry picked and organized in such a way that presents the best evidence for the agenda of each chapter. There is no cohesive link that connects all attributes of the “thriving artist” as articulated, although attempts are made to use Michelangelo as the test case. Ultimately, Goins desires artists to be smart, flexible, and business savvy, which is great; however, life context is not the same for everyone, and the “starving artist” is a reality, not a myth, for numerous reasons. While we may certainly desire that artists (at least the good ones, as we perceive them) have a path for obtaining a wonderfully prosperous and fulfilling career, it simply isn’t and won’t be the case for everyone.

The book is outlined as follows (my words in parentheses):

Introduction: Myth of the Starving Artist (Except that it’s a reality, and Goins acknowledges this in the text. I think the whole book simply demonstrates his desire is to make it a myth, which would be great.)

Part 1: Mind-Set
1 You Aren’t Born an Artist (This is really addressing careers, not artistic talent.)
2 Stop Trying to Be Original (We learn from history, so use history. There’s little to no originality in the world, but there’s a lot or organizing and rearranging. I don’t think that means we don’t try to be original.)
3 Apprentice Under a Master (Yes, please! This path will often require contradiction between other points in the book, but it’s one we desperately need to bring back in Western culture.)
4 Harness Your Stubbornness (This doesn’t mean you let go of principles and ideals, but an artist must remain flexible in the many details of a career as an artist.)

Part 2: Market
5 Cultivate Patrons (Easier for extroverts and the less humble—not the same thing, by the way—this can be tough, but a necessity for a career. Find people who like and want to spread your work.)
6 Go Join a Scene (Easier said than done. Single folks will find this to be a lot easier than those with spouses and families. Still, we need beauty everywhere, not just in metropolitan pockets.)
7 Collaborate with Others (It’s extremely helpful and often necessary to further one’s skills, ideas, etc.)
8 Practice in Public (This goes with chapter 5—another hard one, but helpful in the proper contexts.)

Part 3: Money (The really hard part.)
9 Don’t Work for Free (Unless you have to, which is one of the biggest problems. The anecdotes used in this chapter are of those well into their careers, not those just starting out.)
10 Own Your Work (Another difficult one, and something one should definitely work toward if able. Again, anecdotes used here are of those able to do so.)
11 Diversify Your Portfolio (As with many careers, one often discoveries one must be able to do more than one thing—art, marketing, business, etc.)
12 Make Money to Make Art (Some will need a second job to make art while others will make enough—or more than enough—with their art to make more. Stuff requires money, so you’re going to need it. It’s simple economics.)

Conclusion: Join the New Renaissance (Go buck the system! Or stay as you are. You know, whatever works for your career and ideals.)

In the endnotes, Goins provides a link for the sources and data used for this book: dontstarve.com/tools

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos, edited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?Edited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre, Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos is a moderated (Southern Baptist Convention), two-view presentation and discussion between two “Christian” organizations (BioLogos and Reasons to Believe) in agreement with evolutionary theory in general and an understanding of the earth as being billions of years old, but they are in disagreement over what all that necessarily means and how we (humans) became we are in particular, especially regarding what it means to be “made in the image of God.” BioLogos members believe all life, including humans, have a common ancestor; Reasons to Believe (RTB) members believe humans were created as special beings separate and apart from an evolutionary process.

WHO ARE THEY?
BioLogos is quite a diverse group with no central board of scholars dictating their beliefs and findings to others. Their “core commitments” are relatively broad:

  • We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
  • We affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as Creator of all life over biollions of years.
  • We seek truth, ever learning as we study the natural world and the Bible.
  • We strive for humility and gracious dialogue with those who hold other views.
  • We aim for excellence in all areas, from science to education to business practices.

When an author writes from the perspective of BioLogos, he or she often includes a caveat that not all within the organization may agree on the specifics (or even in general, as the case may be). The organization’s focus is primarily on educating Christians in the “both-and” of science and Scripture in hopes of ending or smoothing controversies surrounding both and the fear and/or disdain many have for evolutionary theory.

Reasons to Believe is rather exclusive with only a small team of four scientists (Fazale Rana, Anjeanette Roberts, Hugh Ross, Jeff Zweerink) and one theologian (Kenneth Samples) leading the pack. Requirements for participation include signing a four-page doctrinal statement (“explicitly Protestant and evangelical, patterned after Reformation creeds, but allows for diversity of views on eschatology, spiritual gifts, and the paradox of human free will and divine predestination”) with a view of biblical inerrancy as articulated by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, a Christian behavior contract, and RTB’s mission statement. When an author writes from the perspective of RTB, it is assumed all are in agreement. The organization’s focus is evangelizing non-Christians into a saving relationship with Jesus.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS
Southern Baptist Convention: Ted Cabal, James Dew, Ken Keathley, John Laing, Steve Lemke, Robert Stewart
BioLogos: Darrel Falk, Deborah Haarsma, Loren Haarsma, Jeff Schloss, Ralph Stearley, J. B. Stump, John Walton
Reasons to Believe: Fazale “Fuz” Rana, Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, Jeff Zweerink

ABOUT THE BOOK
Though not likely to convince and swing young-earth and “literal six-day” creationists to an old-earth perspective, it proves helpful in better understanding the two provided views in general and in pointing to much needed further detailed and precise information (see footnotes and bibliography for sources). The format of each chapter includes an SBC moderator introduction with questions, a response from a BioLogos author followed by the RTB response, a redirect with clarifications and questions from SBC, a response from BioLogos and RTB in the same order, and a conclusion from SBC. While authors BioLogos appear to be much more specific, detailed, and thorough than those from RTB, there simply isn’t enough time or space for fully articulated arguments and responses, and I wonder if the discussion would have been any different if the order had alternated between BioLogos and RTB responses. It would also have been helpful had the authors been able to edit their responses to better suit the moderator’s questions as intended rather than some moderator conclusions ending with something akin to “I must have been misunderstood” or “my questions weren’t really answered.” It definitely reads as an ongoing conversation, which it is, than a thoroughly prepared articulation of two views, which it isn’t.

STARTING WITH THE END
Some people read the end/conclusion of a book before reading the first page, which I find intriguing, especially in regards to fiction in general and mystery in particular. While I am not one who practices this, I perceive a few things mentioned in this book’s final chapter to be helpful on both bookends. So, for the reader’s benefit, here are three quotes from the end that should prove beneficial before starting on page one:

“After participating in all of our conversations with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos and now after working through this book, which is the product of those conversations, I am struck by a number of things. To state the obvious, this issue is huge. The creation/evolution conversation is big in the sense of how broad and interdisciplinary the topics are.” – SBC moderator Kenneth Keathley

“We probably all felt frustrated at times, wondering, Why can’t you see the strength of my argument? or Why can’t you see the danger in your position? If the group had not established strong personal relationships and been committed to humility and Christian unity, we would not have been able to sustain true engagement and would have descended to talking past each other or rancorous debate. … In today’s public square and—sadly—in our churches, people are assign guilt by association, so that even talking with someone of a different view can be seen as an endorsement or agreement with that view. I admire the courage of everyone involved to continue our conversations despite the risks.” – BioLogos author Deborah Haarsma

“The issues addressed in this book are very big and controversial and, even for people with doctoral degrees in science or theology, can be confusing. Our goal in this book was twofold: to help remove some of the confusion and to demonstrate that important controversial disagreement can be addressed in a spirit of gentleness, respect, and love. … This book…is a two-views book but not a debate book. We purposely avoided long rebuttals and responses, recognizing that there is not enough room within a single volume to engage in sufficient depth to map out pathways for resolution of our differences. Our goal is to do that in future books.” – Reasons to Believe author Hugh Ross

RECOMMENDED?
While I remain unconvinced on many of the particulars, I did find the book helpful in better understanding some of my brothers and sisters in Christ and applaud the way in which all participants demonstrated the love of Christ. I look forward to delving into some of the more specialized and detailed sources cited.

 

*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy (hence no page numbers for included quotations) for review from IVP Academic via NetGalley.