February 2011: Books Read

1. Dune by Frank Herbert. This is a classic work of science fiction that, before I read it, I knew next to nothing about. I knew they had made a movie from it (which I had never seen), and that the movie had Sting in it. That’s all. It was a fun read, though I kept wishing that the action would move a bit faster. To me, the reading experience felt like this: foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow SOMETHING HAPPENS foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow foreshadow, etc. It got a bit tiring, after a while.

Also, I had a conversation with a co-worker while I was reading it. This co-worker said that he had read the book when he was young, and was quite taken with Frank Herbert’s world-building ability until he got a bit older and found that he stole a bunch of what he wrote from the Arabs. This, I found, was quite true. It’s impossible, I think, to build a complete fantasy world from scratch with no reference to the real world. But it’s a lot more entertaining when you can cover your tracks a bit. An interesting read, but I don’t understand what the fuss is about.

2. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright. From the early church on, the issue of how to interpret the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible, if you prefer) has been a live one. Are its laws still binding on Jewish Christians? Do Gentile Christians have to start living by its laws? Some answers regarding how to interpret it are found in the New Testament, but we modern types have still more questions: What about the destruction of the Canaanites? How did the Israelites view the environment? Do the laws God gave to the Israelites reflect the ideal way to govern a society, or was it a condescension to the Israelites’ culture? If the Old Testament law is an ideal, what about its regulations concerning slavery? And on and on.

Wright’s book is a fantastic one for answering such questions. He writes in dialogue with other scholars, but on a level that is intelligible to the average person who has never studied Hebrew or the Ancient Near East. It is neither a quick read nor a light read, however, so I would only recommend it to those who are seriously seeking to investigate how Christians should view the Old Testament.

3. Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn. This is an inspirational tale about the friendship between a young man (I believe he is around 19) and a young girl in London. Fynn, the narrator, finds Anna as he is wandering around the city at night. She has run away from home, and he takes her into the home where he lives with his mother and a steady string of other tenants. Soon he discovers that Anna is spiritually sensitive beyond her years, and much of the book consists of conversations between the two of them in which Anna confidently discourses on life and Fynn laps up her wisdom.

There was a lot that I enjoyed about this book, but at the end I thought it was too sentimental. In particular, it came across as an idealization of childhood, and of Anna in particular. She seems almost otherworldly, and this depiction of Anna as otherworldly even extends to the picture on the cover of the book. It depicts Fynn and Anna walking together. Fynn is drawn as a regular human being and Anna is drawn as a ghost. Fynn tells us that it is a true story, but Anna seems a little bit too much like an oracle.

4. Someday You’ll Be a Good Preacher: A Homiletical Memoir by Stan Mast. This book was given to me by my grandparents, and the author is the preaching pastor at the church they attend in Grand Rapids, MI. It is, as the subtitle says, a homiletical memoir, and Mast walks his readers through his development as a preacher, paying particular attention to his critics (those who paid him the backhanded compliment of saying he would be a good preacher someday) and how their criticism (constructive and otherwise) spurred his growth. This is a quick read, and I enjoyed it. I’d recommend it to those who preach, and especially to those who can relate to Mast’s experience as a minister in the Christian Reformed Church.

5. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy Keller. This is a book about idolatry. All too often when we think of idolatry, we imagine ancient people literally bowing down before a statue. That is not all idolatry is, says Tim Keller, and idols are alive and well in the modern world. “A counterfeit god,” Keller says, “is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would hardly feel worth living” (xviii). The only way to get rid of them is to replace them; not with other idols but with Jesus, the only God worthy of our worship. Fascinating and convicting.