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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review - The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis

The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis
by Jerry Root and Mark Neal

Abingdon Press
September 1, 2015
280 pages

This book is still another take on the literary genius of C.S. Lewis.  The authors – as well as this reviewer – are long-time fans of Lewis and his imagination.  The fact that this is called a “surprising” imagination seems, at first, a bit sensational.  However, as the book unfolds, we see again how Lewis adopted various literary methods to best communicate his stories.  Lewis’s work in autobiography, religious writing, literary criticism, fairy tales, science fiction, satire, and poetry are all examined with examples that present to the reader a new perspective – better said, perspectives – on Lewis’s work.  While it helps to have read the pieces identified and analyzed, it is not necessary to see the construction of the work that Lewis applied in order to tell the story that needed to be told.

Dr. Root is an associate professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, home of the richest deposit of Lewis material, the Marion E. Wade Center.  Mark Neal is the vice president of digital marketing for a Chicago-area marketing firm that works with higher education, nonprofits, business, and publishing clients.  Together, their collaboration has produced a thoughtful look at an author who has both captured and stimulated the imagination of many.  The book provides both an introduction to Lewis – indeed, one use of the book is as a text book for undergraduate studies – and can serve as a critical review for those who know Lewis’s work well with the benefit of a view from the use of imagination.  The twelve aspects of imagination used among the seven genres explored are Lewis’s own and work as a mechanism to further understand and appreciate the author and apologist.

This work provides even more appreciation for the literary acumen and the creative vehicles that Lewis deployed.  If you’ve never picked up a copy of any Lewis volume or if you’ve read them all – or had some of them read to you – this book is highly recommended as an easy-to-read, hard-to-put-down, thoughtful, and thought-provoking presentation of one of the greatest writers in the 20th century.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the author but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The New One Minute Manager
Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
5 May 2015
Paperback, 112 pages
ISBN: 9780062367549

This updated favorite of thoughtful managers presents three easy-to-use ways to motivate people, keep them independent, and make best use of everyone’s time.  First published more than 20 years ago, the book has been made more relevant to today’s workplace.  Yet the principles have remained the same, providing an updated way to direct people to think for themselves.

The three key elements are discovered in the form of a narrative from a young manager seeking to find the elements of success for an experienced manager.  They are setting one-minute goals, providing one-minute praisings, and setting one-minute redirects (previously called one-minute reprimands).  Goals can and should be clear and concise; if they can’t fit on a page, they are not going to be read or followed.  Feedback on what people are doing right in a timely and supportive way will encourage good behavior and motivate people to do more and better.  Waiting for direction until it’s too late demotivates and contributes to lost productivity, as well as low morale; redirecting the path of an employee in a timely way will produce positive results.

The book is short but, like its precepts, is very much to the point.  There is no need to belabor the three elements of success but they are presented in a narrative fashion that sticks with the reader.  This book, like its predecessor, is highly recommended for managers, even if you’ve been one for years.  It is also recommended for employees who will be self-motivated by following the principles of the successful manager in the story.  This may be fiction but the principles are very much from the real world – and the real world of managing people will benefit from following these.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Bring a Servant of God
Warren W. Wiersbe
First published January 1st 1993)
Paperback, 150 pages

Wiersbe is a prolific author, accomplished teacher, and capable pastor.  In this book, he offers a series of “chats” (chapters) that help guide the reader to understand what it takes to serve God.  Although this book could be readily used by anyone who seeks to serve God, either in full-time ministry or as a believer who wants to adopt a servant’s heart, the book clearly comes from the perspective of a senior pastor who I seeking to minister to full-time workers.  The author encourages both lay and professional Christian workers to apply the principles in the book but most of the examples provided are for the professional Christian minister.
     The chapters are short presentations of themes without titles.  However, they could be titled, perhaps  as shown below.  In any event, these are the themes that Wiersbe presents, whether he would have identified the chapters as such or not.  As he notes, we all would do well to heed these messages here, whether in the Ministry or ministry.

·         Basic Principles
·         Distributors Not Manufacturers
·         Meeting Human Needs
·         Handling Hedgehogs
·         The Glory of God
·         God-given Ability
·         Jesus First
·         For Good Works
·         Perfecting the Character
·         Maturity As the Goal
·         Trouble with People
·         Sense of Humor
·         Grow
·         Finishing a Ministry
·         When to Leave
·         Learn from Mistakes
·         As Old As You Feel
·         For Younger Workers
·         Readers Are Leaders
·         On Marriage
·         Joy in Serving Jesus
·         People of the Book
·         God Calls Workers
·         Loyalty
·         Peaks and Valleys
·         Judgment
·         Bad Days
·         Enemies
·         Money
·         Future

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Point (book review)

The Point:  The Redemption of Oban Ironbout
by William E. Jefferson
Paper, 208 pages
© 2013 by Port Estillyen Productions
published by Port Estillyen Productions
ISBN  978-0-9856621-2-7

Reviewed November 2013

The blurb on the back of this edition claims reminders of Bunyan, Lewis, Donne, and Milton.  While it is easy to scoff at such lofty aspirations, as I did, this claim is not far off the mark.  One could even argue that there is a bit of Tolkein mixed with the author’s own sense of story-telling.  This is truly allegory, it is a quest story, it used Scripture as a basis for relaying truth and conflict, it shows good versus evil.  In short, it has all the elements of a classic and only time will tell if it lives up to that aspiration.  The protagonists are human – probably, though not certainly –  and the interactions are plausible, just as one might expect from Lewis.  The use of allegory is more subtle than Bunyan but just as memorable.  The Readings are a retelling of important Biblical truth as we might have seen from Donne or Milton.  The wordcraft is powerful and reflects the author’s formal education in theology, media, and communications.

The story takes us to Estillyen, the still place where time seems to have returned to a simpler age, though we are not completely certain when that age would have been – or even if it would have been an earthly place.  In the best story-telling fashion, not all the elements that the reader needs are revealed immediately.  Indeed, some are never revealed.  We discover the story as the protagonists do.  As the protagonists do, we also want to explore and learn more.  We are drawn into the lives of Hollie and Goodwin from the first page.  We want to know more about them, what the story is, who are these people they meet, what circumstances really led them to seek refuge on Estillyen.  They are likeable and we develop a strong empathy toward them, just as the residents of Estillyen do.

There is also a bit of a morality tale here.  Indeed, there is a message that we are to be stewards of what we have been given.  The simple place Hollie and Goodwin  are visiting shows the young couple what is wrong with much of the world they left behind.  The people on Estillyen have adopted a simpler, more spiritual, healthier way of living.  Hollie tells us that the “world needs more people like this, focused on the spiritual side of who we are, why we exist.  They’re so completely on target about that.  Gadgets and stuff can so easily define us, pushing us onto one treadmill after another.”  Part of her frustration may be born from the disease she is fighting but there is a perspective for all of us here.

If the reader is looking to pick up a story for superficial reading, this books could serve that purpose.  However, there is so much more here that reading without thinking would be a waste.  This is a book to be read, savored, enjoyed, and used as a source of meditation and reflection.  We can only hope that there will be sequels.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the publisher for the purpose of review but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” 16 CFR, Part 255.

See also

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Lamb’s Agenda (book review)

The Lamb’s Agenda
by Samuel Rodriguez
© 2013 by Samuel Rodriguez
Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers
ISBN  978-1-4002-0449-6

The thesis of this book is simple: Christians should not follow the agenda of the donkey or the elephant but, rather, the agenda of the Lamb.  The agendas of the two leading political parties in the United States are not consistent with God’s plan for individuals or the country.  Rather, the way our country and its people can best be served is by meeting at the nexus of the cross.  If we, especially Christians who seek to follow Christ as closely as humanly possible, establish a vertical relationship with God (the vertical element of the cross) and a horizontal relationship in serving others (the horizontal element of the cross), we will be sitting at the center of the cross, with this meaning in many figurative ways.

Rodriguez is articulate and convincing in his presentation.  He has the delivery of an evangelist and the conviction of a true believer.  The call – indeed, the mandate – to serve in righteousness and justice is clear.  Jesus made it clear in His teaching and others who have followed Him have made it equally clear.  God has declared, through His Word, written by Ethan, that “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.  (Psalm 89:14).  We cannot only focus on righteousness, as is often done by white believers, nor on justice, as is often the focus of black believers.  Both the vertical elements and the horizontal elements are essential components of God’s plan and the teachings of Jesus.  We are called as believers to adopt both the Imago Dei with the Habitus Chrtistus.

We are presented the beliefs of men like Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. and have no conflict in reconciling the two.  We are presented with the need to recognize both John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.) and Matthew 25:45 (… inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.).  Men like William Wilberforce and Chuck Colson saw inequities in their relationships with both God and men and were graciously rescued from them to go on and serve both God (vertical) and men (horizontal).

Likewise, we learn from our history that commerce without convictions is hollow.  Rodriquez shows us how the commercial pursuits of Jamestown and the convictions of Plymouth merge to form the American experience.  Both have contributed to a mighty nation and both need to be pursued under the principles of the Lamb’s agenda.  When we pursue only the commercial without the compassion, we fail.  However, we can pursue both, both as individuals and as a country.  The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is, however, in the context of God over man and man over government – any other configuration will cause failure.  In short, we are given a prescription to avoid the moral relativism we currently experience: live in His image, walk in His Spirit, exist in His grace.

In the end, we are told we have a choice.  We can live by faith or we can walk by sight, we can choose to believe or reject God, we can choose to establish a vertical as well as a horizontal connection.  It is my prayer that, as a country and as individuals, we recognize our responsibilities to God (vertical) and man (horizontal) and base those relationships on the Lamb’s agenda.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the publisher but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant (book review)

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant
by Terry Felber
Hardcover, 208 pages
© 2005, 2011, and 2012 by Terry Felber
Reprint published January 2013 by Thomas Nelson Publishers
ISBN  978-0-8499-4852-7
Reviewed March 2013

With a ringing endorsement in the foreword from Dave Ramsey, a respected authority on business and money management, this book promised to be interesting and enlightening.  It is not.  From its first, false premise to its anticlimactic conclusion, this book is a horrible and frightening disappointment.

The book is supposed to be a fable about training a young man by way of the example of his grandfather.  The grandfather took the route of a businessman and his best friend had taken the route of a priest.  The stepping-off point (into the deep end of the pool, obviously) was citing the Scripture reference of how God has made us kings and priests.  The reference is obviously to the Bible with capitalization of the reference to Scripture, calling it sacred, and how access was limited (it’s not, we can all access Scripture).  Indeed, in the book of the Revelation we are told how God has made us kings (or a kingdom) and priests.  However, we are all called to be both kings and priests.  This is not a choice of either one or the other.  The fact is that Felber takes us on a wobbly theological journey where we are to choose one vocation or the other – these roles are not mutually exclusive.  Even worse, the kings of Revelation 1:6 are not kings of business as Felber would assert.
The book goes downhill from this first theme.  There is just enough Scripture reference to make this book dangerous and just enough false theology to lead otherwise clear thinkers into believing that there are “twelve keys to successful living” (the book’s subtitle) that will make all well and good.  The goal here appears to be prosperity rather than fidelity.  Work hard, do right, provide for family and others, give back to God, and you will do well.
Why do we walk in faith?  It is not for prosperity but for obedience.  It is not to get but to give.  If we believe what is given in Scripture – really believe it, putting any designs of prosperity behind us – we will not work to get.  Anyone tempted to pick up this book will do far better to pick up a Bible to take away infinitely better lessons.
Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the publisher for the purpose of review but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” 16 CFR, Part 255.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Mormon Candidate – A Novel (book review)

The Mormon Candidate – A Novel
by Avraham Azrieli
© 2012 by Avraham Azrieli
Published by Create Space

Published coincident with a presidential election pitting an incumbent, liberal President being challenged by a conservative, one-term former governor who is Mormon, there are many interesting and current reasons to read this book.  However, it is a truly novel and has all the elements of a very unlikely set of circumstances and coincidences that comprise modern fiction.  That said, it’s a great read.
Azrieli has woven enough fact into his fictional tale to make it believable and created enough pace to make it compelling to read.  It is a novel of intrigue and suspense and is, by definition in this reviewer’s experience, a page-turner.  From the start of the book, the reader is drawn into alliance with a character who is rather difficult to develop sympathy.  Ben Teller is a minimally-employed, essentially-agnostic, self-declared investigative reporter with a medical student stripper for a girlfriend and a series of stereotypical allies (a wheelchair-bound editor, lesbian policewoman friend, dissident religionists).  Yet even the most biased reader will cheer for this protagonist who seeks the truth (not the “faith-promoting truth”) about the death of a fellow Harley rider.  Through well-researched efforts and a comprehensive supporting bibliography, Azrieli presents the shadowy world of politics, religion, and suspense with enough plot twists to be captivating.

This book is not in the form of literary novel yet is very well written and draws in the reader from the beginning.  In short, is it recommended reading, especially for an escape (but not too far) from current events.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book was received for free from the author, along with a nominal stipend, but a positive review was not required. The opinions expressed are my own. This disclosure is in accordance with the United States Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” 16 CFR, Part 255.