Category Archives: Books
Many people like to get a book with devotional readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for an annual devotional book, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.) Both of these devotionals are strongly rooted in the scripture, with penetrating insights that will drive you to deeper prayer and faithfulness.
Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring. Keller has also published a new devotional on the Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.) Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus.
Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day, and while they are well-written, they lack as much substance as the other devotionals mentioned above.
Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries.
If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.
Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs is an extremely helpful Christian book on marriage. It was first published in 2004, and has sold over one million copies. My wife Mary and I listened to it together and we agreed he correctly understands the emotional needs of husbands and wives.
Eggerichs makes a great contribution to understanding marriage by his insight into the importance of taking Ephesians 5:33 literally: “Let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” The author points out that the greatest emotional need of the wife is for love, and the greatest emotional need of the husband is respect.
He gives specific ways that men can show love to their wives, and wives show respect to their husbands, to avoid the “crazy cycle,” as he calls it, of each spouse withholding what the other needs because of not getting what they themselves need. He speaks of the “energizing cycle” when spouses meet the need of the other. He concludes by emphasizing that the motivation of a Christian to meet the need of his or her spouse should be obedience to Christ, which he calls the “reward cycle.”
Who Sang the First Song? is a large hardback children’s book, written in rhyme by songwriter Ellie Holcomb and beautifully illustrated by Kayla Harren. In 24 pages that flow through 12 large two-page colorful drawings, Holcomb repeatedly asks the question, “Who sang the first song?” and then suggests the answer with questions, as it the names parts of the creation. The questions come in an order similar to the days of creation, flowing through poetic references to wind, moon, stars, sun, sea creatures, animals, plants and birds. The book answers, “All these guesses we’ve made are quite good, but they’re wrong. It was God, our Maker, who sang the first song!” Then Holcomb explains that God “wrote His song into everything” and tells children they are good and wonderfully made, and that God wants children to “sing with your life and your voice.” Each page shows happy children, and includes musical notes in the sky. Harren’s contrasting colors and detail delighted my grandchildren, who enjoyed pointing out things like the frog on an umbrella or a girl holding a basket of rabbits. I read this book to my grandchildren, ages 2, 3, 4 and 6. (In the photo, my grandson is reading the page with his favorite illustration.) The youngest were fascinated by the illustrations and wanted to see it again and again, while the older ones also understood the message.
Ironically, although the book is published by B&H Kids of Nashville (publishing arm of Southern Baptists), it is printed in Shenzhen, China (next door to Hong Kong), in a communist country that suppresses Christians from sharing the faith with their own children.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, is the history of Florida, told in novel form.
The author creates a fictional family, the McIvey’s, and weaves a tale of their lives through all the major points of Florida history, from the time of the Civil War to the 1960s. Sensing the onset of war, Tobias McIvey flees Georgia and settles in the wilderness of northern Florida in the late 1850’s with his young wife. Through Tobias and his sons Zack and Sol, as well as their African-American and Seminole friends, we learn about the Battle of Olustee during the Civil War, the shameful treatment of the Seminole tribe, how rural Floridians came to be called “crackers,” open-range cattle ranching, the beginning of citrus crops, the railroads of Henry Flagler, the settlement and rapid growth of Miami and south Florida, and more than anything else, we learn about the land– creatures, plants, lakes, hurricanes, and the Everglades. The story is told with humor and drama. This is an interesting way to learn about Florida, which is why many Florida social studies teachers use it in their classrooms. However, I should warn you that the characters are far from saints– there is a fair bit of profanity and some mild sexuality, as well. There is a student edition of this book which may tame some of those elements.
Alberts, William E. A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, 2012.
This short, easy-to-read book is a series of 54 diverse vignettes that Rev. Alberts shares about people to whom he ministered as a board-certified, CPSP hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center. He has a loving and accepting approach to all of his patients, and he models some excellent approaches and conversations to the “crossroads of humanity” who need medical care. Health care chaplains and all those who minister to the sick will relate to many stories and can learn much from his compassion and wisdom.
The book is full of touching stories and pithy quotes, such as “religion is about the Golden Rule and not about the ‘gold’ that rules,” and a patient who was transformed from “a hopeless dope addict into a dopeless hope addict.”
However, those like myself who have a conservative, deeply held personal faith will likely be distracted and even annoyed that Rev. Alberts favors those who believe that all roads lead to God, which he spells with the small “g.” He emphasizes his theological position as a Unitarian and United Methodist (more Unitarian than Methodist), and stresses his distaste for conservative politics, especially military spending. Thus it seems odd to me, as a less experienced hospital chaplain myself, that he repeatedly tells how he begins a visit by asking a person’s religious affiliation. He frequently reports that people are defensive or confused by this question, yet he continues to ask it. He even reported that patients occasionally responded with apologies for not attending church, thus showing that the question put them on the spot. Since he seems sincerely focused on serving the needs of all patients, why not just ask the patient what is happening in their lives, and let them talk about their religious affiliation if they want to do so?
The Kindle edition has a few minor errors where lines are repeated or words are missing, such as page 138.
Copyright by Bob Rogers
What translation of the Bible is best for a pastor to use in the pulpit? Pastors and laypeople feel differently about the issue.
My Unscientific Survey
Recently I did an unscientific opinion poll on Facebook among pastors and laypeople about what Bible translation they preferred for use from the pulpit. On a Facebook page with 1,300 pastors, I asked them what translation they used in the pulpit. Then I asked laypeople on my own Facebook page, with over 2,000 friends, what translation they preferred that their pastor use (I blocked my pastor friends from seeing the post). I received 95 responses from pastors, and 48 responses from laypeople. This is an unscientific survey, since it was based on those who decided to answer, and the two Facebook groups have demographic differences, although the pastors Facebook page is dominated by conservative evangelical Christians, and most of my friends on Facebook are also conservative evangelicals. Despite that qualification, I noticed some significant results that are worth noting. Here are the results and lessons learned:
KJV: 31 %
Given the unscientific nature of this survey and relatively small size of the sample, one should not read too much into this survey, but some trends should be noted:
*There is no one translation that the majority of people prefer. We live in an era in which many English translations of the Bible are available. No one translation is even close to being used by a majority of pastors or laypeople.
*The KJV is still the most popular translation, especially among pastors. The KJV was the number one answer among both groups, and half of all pastors either named the KJV or its updated version, the NKJV.
*There is a big divide between pastors and laypeople over the NIV. The NIV ranks beside the KJV in Bible sales in the USA, and this was reflected in the survey, as laypeople (who buy most of the Bibles) listed the NIV almost as much as the KJV. In contrast, almost no pastor listed the NIV. Laypeople also mentioned a greater variety of translations.
*The majority prefer that the pastor preach from a traditional, accurate translation. The KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV are traditional, literal translations of the Bible. The CSB and HCSB are also accurate, though more contemporary translations, and even the NIV is much more accurate than free translations like the NLT or paraphrases like The Message. Pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly named accurate translations as their preference for pulpit use.
I do not presume to tell a pastor how to preach, but it I believe that pastors would do well to use an accurate translation from the pulpit. It has been my experience that many church members will go out and buy or download to their device the translation that their pastor uses. So choose your translation prayerfully, and use it consistently. Know your audience– just as a Hispanic pastor will choose a Spanish translation, a pastor needs to know the kind of congregation he has, and what will best communicate God’s word accurately and effectively to his people.
While reading the text from his preferred Bible translation, pastors would also do well to mention a variety of translations from time to time from the pulpit. Doing so can help clarify passages that are hard to understand, and also reminds the congregation that all English translations come from an original text that was in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.
Pastors should not condemn church members who are reading another translation of the Bible. Public condemnation of people over their Bible translation is unkind, and may humiliate a brother or sister in Christ who sincerely wants to know God’s word. Many new believers and young Christians prefer a more contemporary translation because they have difficulty understanding more traditional translations. If you have a conviction that they are not using a good translation of the Bible, you can instruct them lovingly and privately, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (see Acts 18:26).
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
In the runaway bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown claims that Emperor Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible” and he “outlawed, gathered up, and burned” the existing gospels (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, p. 234).
While reputable historians have rejected the claims of The Da Vinci Code as having no basis in fact, many people wonder, why should I believe the Bible?
The Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) that “all scripture is God-breathed…” I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Why? Not only does it claim to be the Word of God, but it passes three important tests:
1. It passes the test of corroboration.
In a trial, one of the things a judge or jury look for is corroborating testimony. If one witness sees something, and another witness agrees and says he saw the same thing, it gives extra credence to the truth of his words.
The Bible passes the test of corroboration, because so many other witnesses verify what the Bible says. Here are just a few examples:
Genesis 36:20 says the Horites were descendants of Esau, but some historians doubted they existed. In 1995 Giorgio Buccellati discovered the Horite capital city beneath modern Syrian city of Tell Mozan.
According to 1 Kings 9:28, King Solomon brought back 16 tons of gold from Ophir. But nobody knew that Ophir existed. In 1956 broken pottery found at Tell Qasile in Israel was inscribed, “gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon.”
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Nero persecuted the Christians, and then explained that “Christus” was crucified under Pontius Pilate, just as the Gospels record.
In 1990 a bone chest was discovered in Jerusalem that was inscribed “Caiaphas” and “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” John 11 says Caiaphas was the high priest at Jesus’ trial, and Jewish historian Joseph says his full name was “Joseph, called Caiaphas.”
There are literally thousands of these kinds of historical and archaeological discoveries that identify people and places named in the Bible.
2. It passes the test of endurance.
The manuscript evidence of the Bible is an amazing story.
The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and some in Aramaic, and copied down by hand. So how trustworthy is the text that has been copied and recopied for several thousand years? We got our answer when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a thousand years older than any other manuscripts available at the time! Scholars eagerly studied them to see what errors would have been made in all those years of copying. To their amazement, there were almost no differences. For example, when they studied the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, which is about 100 pages in English translation, they only found three minor spelling differences, similar to the difference in spelling Savior or Saviour.
The New Testament has by far the best manuscript evidence of any other ancient document. There are 5,400 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that scholars can study to figure out what the original text said. Compare that with the classical works of Plato, Herodotus, and Aristophanes, that have anywhere from one to 20 manuscripts.
At one time, liberal scholars claimed that the Gospel of John must have been written long after John’s life, in the late second century. But then a papyrus was discovered in Southern Egypt of the Gospel of John carbon dated to A.D. 125. Since John was probably written at Ephesus, it had to have been written long before A.D. 125 to have time to travel to Southern Egypt.
The Bible has outlasted the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome. It survived the invasions of the Goths and Vikings and the neglect of the Dark Ages. It survived the skepticism of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Over the centuries, people have attacked the people, banned the Bible and even burned the Bible, but the Bible continues to endure as the number one bestselling book of all time.
3. It passes the test of experience.
Millions of people have read the Bible and found that it spoke to their hearts.
Lewis Wallace was a Union general in the Civil War, and then became governor of the territory of New Mexico. He met the atheist scholar Robert Ingersoll and was unable
to refute Ingersoll’s arguments against the Bible. So he studied everything he could about the life of Jesus, and became convinced that Jesus was everything the Bible says he was. In the process, Wallace wrote a novel, called Ben Hur about a man who meets Jesus and gives his life to Christ.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian who was sent to the Soviet labor camps for eight years for writing disparaging comments about the Soviet leader, Stalin. There he became convinced that only the message of the Bible explained the human condition of sin and gave the solution for changing the human heart. Solzhenitsyn’s writings about the Soviet prisons and Russian history are considered some of the greatest writings about communism in the USSR.
I grew up the son of a U.S. Army chaplain. In the seventh grade, I began to read about ten chapters of the Bible every day. I could not get enough of it, I was so thirsty to read more and know more about the scripture. And the more I read the Bible, the more my life changed. Finally, in the tenth grade, I sensed that God was calling me to preach His Word.
Why do I believe the Bible? It passes the test of corroboration and test of endurance, but most of all, I have experienced it’s life-changing message, and so have millions of others. How about you?
The July 1, 2017 issue of World magazine features four books with LGBT storylines that parents should be aware of:
Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley. (Target audience: ages 14 and up.) Set at a time before legalized same-sex marriage, Dooley’s second novel has 12-year-old “Fella” mourning her mother’s death and the disintegration of the only family she has known: Two moms and sister Zany. The story emphasizes prejudice and unfriendly laws, but it speaks louder of brokenness and confusion.
The Best Man by Richard Peck. (Target audience: ages 12 and up.) Archer Magill is slow to realize his fifth-grade teacher is gay and dating Archer’s uncle. Archer and those around him naïvely accept the relationship, which culminates in a wedding.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. (Target audience: 8 and up.) A picture book told from a child’s perspective, two mothers—Marmee and Meema—appear fully able to offer their three adopted children a loving home. One neighbor snubs them and keeps her kids away, fuming, “I don’t appreciate what you two are!” A hateful neighbor, not the absence of a father, hurts them.
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. (Target audience: ages 10-13.) Parents and fans of Riordan’s wildly popular books should know that this second installment in his Nordic-themed fantasy series introduces a transgender, “gender-fluid” character, Alex Fierro. A son of Loki with a tumultuous past, “she” spontaneously changes gender and pronouns on any given day.
For more information, consult World magazine, an excellent news and culture magazine that writes from a Biblical worldview. Their website is www.wng.org.
A House Put in Order, by J. Brian Broome, is an entertaining paranormal novel of a prison chaplain who must deal with the disaster in his prison just before Halloween, when a Wiccan inmate summons an evil spirit to get revenge on the deputy warden.
Although the book depicts a Christian chaplain responding to evil spirits, the book is not preachy. In fact, he is very respectful toward other religious faiths. That is not to say that he doesn’t include some enlightening insights, such as the comment in chapter 11, “When a man is beaten down by his pain, well, let’s just say pain doesn’t know religious affiliation.”
The author is a retired prison chaplain, and anybody who has spent time in the prison system will recognize how realistic his descriptions are. His characters are also realistic, and at times, humorous. (For example, in chapter 17, the chaplain reflects on an inmate who argued that since he was a new person in Christ, he should be set free from prison. The chaplain’s brilliant reply was to remind him that Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and added, “Your soul may belong to God, but right now your body belongs to Caesar.”)
After setting up characters and building the plot early in the book, the plot picks up pace and rushes straight to a ending that will keep you reading. Some might say the plot is a bit predictable toward the end, or at least it goes the way the reader would hope, although not entirely; you will certainly want to keep reading to find out how it ends. This book would make a great summer read, and a fantastic read around Halloween.
In 2003, Holman Bible Publishers, which is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a completely new translation of the Bible, called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was used in all of LifeWay’s literature, including its Sunday school curriculum. The HCSB was nearly as readable as the popular New International Version (NIV), yet closer to the New American Standard Bible in accuracy. When Zondervan revised the NIV in 2011, making it more accurate in some ways but gender neutral in reference to mankind, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention publicly condemned the revision, and some pastors who were using the NIV, myself included, switched to the HCSB. Now the HCSB is no more.
In 2017, Holman released a radical revision of the HCSB, under the new name, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is now the translation used in LifeWay literature instead of the HCSB. So what’s the difference? Basically, the CSB has positioned itself between the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV). It is nearly as contemporary and readable and almost as gender-neutral as the NIV, but nearly as accurate and literal as the ESV.
1. The CSB is more gender neutral.
Interestingly, the CSB follows the gender neutral trend of the NIV far more than the HCSB did. Even the HCSB had begun to use “people” instead of “men” in places where the text clearly refers to people in general, like Matthew 4:19 where it refers to Jesus teaching His disciples to “fish for men.” But the CSB goes much further. In Proverbs 27:17, the CSB says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (The HCSB has “men.”) One may argue that the context implies all people there, although men’s groups have often equated it to masculinity. A more significant change is the constant reference to the believers in the church in the New Testament letters as “brothers” in the HCSB. The CSB changes this to “brothers and sisters.” So we read in Romans 16:14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Again, the reasoning for this is that the apostle must have had in mind all members of the congregation, both male and female (although all of the Greek names in Romans 16:14 happen to be male).
To be fair, the CSB avoids the extremes examples of gender neutral language found in the NIV. The NIV goes so far as to translate the Hebrew ab, father, as “parent” in Malachi 4:6, and in Hebrews 12:7 it says “God is treating you as children,” although the Greek word is “sons.” The CSB does not goes this far; in both of these passages, the CSB uses the masculine word, and the CSB is consistent in always referring to God with the masculine pronoun (as is the NIV).
2. The CSB is more traditional.
The HCSB broke translation tradition in several ways, including the frequent, but inconsistent use of the literal “Yahweh” instead of the traditional “LORD” in all capital letters to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The HCSB also translated the Greek christos as “Messiah,” since many people did not understand that Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words for the same title, Anointed One. In contrast, the CSB has returned to more traditional wording. The CSB uses “LORD” in the Old Testament for Yahweh and often uses “Christ,” for christos in the New Testament, although the CSB does use “Messiah” in some places where a declaration of faith is made about Jesus, such as John 11:27: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”
3. The CSB is more literal.
A good example of how the CSB is more literal than the HCSB would be Psalm 1:1, which the CSB translates literally: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway of sinners or sit in the company of mockers.” The HCSB paraphrased the “walk, stand, sit” poetry of Psalm 1:1 this way: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Notice again, however, that the HCSB uses “man,” while the CSB uses the gender neutral “one.”)
4. The CSB no longer capitalizes pronouns referring to God.
A fourth major revision of the CSB is that it dropped the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. The HCSB showed reverence to God by capitalizing all pronouns that referred to God, as does the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The CSB does not (nor does the KJV or ESV). The CSB translators reasoned that it is not always clear in the context if the reference is to God. Thus we see the difference in John 15:26, a passage which refers to all three persons of the Trinity. This verse is translated by the HCSB: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– He will testify about Me.” But John 15:26 is translated this way in the CSB: “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– he will testify about me.”
No translation is perfect, as they are made by imperfect people, and language is constantly changing. As I said at the beginning, the CSB has positioned itself between the readable, gender-neutral NIV and the more literal ESV. In doing so, it has eliminated some of the quirky, fascinating translation characteristics of the HCSB. For this reason, I hope that the HCSB will still be available for those who want something different. Each person will need to make his (or her) own choice, and never forget that the Author is God, not man (or humanity).
(For more study on changes from the HCSB to CSB, here is a good resource: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1U7uvZHYsCtSpQdKNwrS6zZYSre-MdY7GbDQZzefWs50/pub)
The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?
Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.
Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.
“Today is Nazo Heydo’s wedding. The day she will set herself on fire.”
Thus begins What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind, Gharbi Mustafa’s gripping novel about women who survive the abuses of the Islamic State.
I have read Gharbi Mustafa’s first novel, When Mountains Weep, which is the story of a Kurdish boy coming of age when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate the Kurds. I knew Mustafa was as excellent novelist, so I was looking forward to this second novel about the suffering of Yazidi Kurds under ISIS. I was totally blown away by this new book. Mustafa’s first book was very good; this book is great.
What Comes with the Dust: Goes with the Wind is a long title, which comes from the Yazidi religious legends that are explained in the book. It is a story about two Yazidi women, Nazo and Soz, and their struggle to survive. Nazo must escape slavery from ISIS to reach her forbidden lover. Soz is a female soldier who fights ISIS but also struggles with a secret love. Their fates are intertwined in a heart-wrenching story taken directly from the events we see on the daily news.
In 2014, the world watched in horror as Kurdish helicopters dropped relief supplies and tried to rescue thousands of Yazidis on Shingal Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, trapped there by ISIS. Since then, the United Nations has recognized the Yazidis re the targets of genocide by the Islamic State.
Who are these Yazidis? Why are the Kurds so eager to rescue them? Why is ISIS so eager to destroy them? This novel answers these questions, even though it is a work of fiction. In story form, the novel unravels the mysteries of the Middle East to western readers. Along the way, Mustafa shows us the mysterious religion and culture of the Yazidis, and contrasts these peaceful people with the fanatical cruelty of ISIS. Rich in culture and characters, and jarring in its account of jihadist brutality, it is a story that keeps the reader turning the pages to the end. I simply could not put it down until I finished.
Gharbi Mustafa is uniquely qualified to write this story. A Kurd himself, Mustafa is professor of English at the University of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He has personally interviewed Yazidi women who escaped ISIS, and knows the culture like few writers in the English language. As a novelist, he writes in a way that is at once deeply moving and enlightening. It is well worth the two hours and 200 pages.
Parents and grandparents often look for great books to share with their children at Christmas. Here is what I consider to be four of the best children’s Christmas books. One is sentimental, some are humorous, and one will help a child deal with suffering.
One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.
In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.
Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.
My third selection is Cajun Night Before Christmas, by “Trosclair,” edited by Howard Jacobs. This is a regional favorite in Louisiana, but I have read it to children in Georgia who loved it.
Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:
“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”
I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.
My final selection is All Is Well: A Story for Christmas, by Frank Peretti. Peretti is the best-selling author of the Christian thriller This Present Darkness, but he is also the author of one of the most touching Christmas books for children that I have ever read.
All Is Well is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.
If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.