Independent Author Spotlight: Katelyne Parker’s Hosanna

I don’t expect first novels from independent authors to be great. I will settle for good. Hosanna by Katelyne Parker exceeds my expectations. It is the best book that I have read recently.

HosannaSet in a small Georgia town in the mid-twentieth century, Hosanna is a child born to an unwed, white mother and an African-American father. Scandalous as that would have been in that era, the mother, Miss Gracie, is in love with the father, Addison. Miss Margret, the grandmother, is racist. The result is a secret that everyone but Hosanna wants to keep buried.

The themes of the story are multiple. The racial issue is central to the story as the walls of segregation are beginning to fall, albeit very slowly. Hosanna grows up victimized by her white grandmother’s racism, her white mother’s silent suffering, and her bitterness at the injustices that she suffers. The depiction of racism both personal and systematic is brutally realistic and thought provoking. Beyond these darker elements, there is a message of hope about what happens when one trust in God. Without giving spoilers, the message is one of love and reconciliation.

Analysis

The writing is first person with the language reflecting the local vernacular. For some that may be a minus, but to my Southern ears, it was poetry. The plot moved forward consistently with a sense of gripping suspense. The characterization was multi-dimensional Few characters were one-dimensional. Hosanna could be an infuriating character, but as a reader, I never lost my sympathy for her and desired to see her reach her goals in the end.

Some readers will find the depiction of racism deeply disturbing. (Shouldn’t it be?) The “N” word is used with all of its malice. The author depicts violence but not gratuitously.

Theology

In the novel, the local church and its pastor struggle to be either the purveyors of racial injustice or the source of its solution. Hosanna struggles throughout the story to trust God and to let go of her bitterness. The author depicts God as being interested in the oppressed and injustice. There is no complete explanation of the gospel, but faith is an important concept throughout the book, especially in the life of the character named Mother Hill. The importance of family and kindness is seen through Hosanna’s love interest, John Irvin.

Conclusion

Read this book. No matter your view of racial issues today, you will find it challenging.

Note to my readers in the great and most awesome state of Georgia: Katelyne Parker will be at the Decatur Book Festival on September 3, 2016, at 3:00pm for a brief talk and book signing.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History

IntroductionbyCooperRecently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.

Strengths

The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.

The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.

Weaknesses

If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.

Conclusion

For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Independent Author Spotlight: The One Who Sees Me by Kandi J. Wyatt

The One Who Sees Me by Kandi J. Wyatt is a fictional retelling of the story of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, in the Bible. In this story, the name is Faru, and the setting is medieval times.

Strengths

The writing is concise with few wasted words. The plot moves along well. Though this is not the kind of book that I would usually read, it kept my interest. The author tells the story in the third person from the perspective of Faru, who represents Hagar from the biblical story. This point of view creates an interesting angle that those familiar with the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael from the Bible likely have not considered. No characters are unsympathetic except perhaps a couple of minor characters. Many who have read the Bible miss the fact that Hagar had a measure of belief and that God made promises to her about her son and descendants.

Biblical?

Fictionalized is the key word to remember. The flow of the story and the major events of the story are faithful to the Biblical account. Faru has a love interest outside of Abraham in the story, which the Bible does not present Hagar as having. Faru’s relationship with this man never moves beyond deep friendship though the tension is there. The plot device works to make Faru a more sympathetic character.

The impression of Lady Cwen, who represents Sarah in this story, is often negative, but not unsympathetic. Since the story is from Faru’s perspective, this fact is not surprising in the story, but some familiar with the Bible story may take offense.

The book does not make any profound or unusual theological claims. Faru develops faith in the Existing One, who is compassionate and full of grace, but also just and wrathful toward sin. The author does not present the Gospel, though faith is presented as a requirement to have a relationship with God

Conclusion

The One Who Sees Me is a well-written retelling of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. If one doesn’t get stuck on the differences between the retelling and the Biblical story, it is enjoyable. However, I highly recommend reading the original rendering in the Bible.

(Full disclosure: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.

Strengths

I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).

Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.

Weaknesses

If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship: The Duty of Prayer Part 2

Unless something incredible happens between now and the elections in November, I know one thing for certain: I will not like the result. I know many of my fellow evangelicals are disturbed by the choices before us. Some say that they cannot in good conscience vote for either major party candidate. Others say that they cannot in good conscience allow their non-vote to allow a greater of two evils to win. Regardless, there is one other thing I know.

No matter who wins, I have a God-given obligation to pray for him or her. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 instructs us to pray for “kings and all those in authority.” The government has a God-given role of maintaining order and the rule of law in society. (Romans 13:1-7) Because humanity is sinful, we need government to protect us from ourselves. A good government provides the environment in which we as Christians may live “a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” According to 1 Timothy 2:3-4, such a society enables a greater spread of the gospel.

freely-10139It is important to recognize that these verses do not make any qualifications on our prayers:

  1. The leaders for whom we pray do not have to be Christians. Most likely the officials for whom Paul wanted the church to intercede were pagans. We don’t have to agree with our governing officials’ religious beliefs to pray for them.
  2. Also, we don’t have to agree with the political views of the government officials for whom we pray. Paul said to pray for kings and ALL THOSE in authority. It would not take a long conversation about politics with me to know that there is much about the current administration in Washington that I do not like. However, my disagreements are not a cause for me not to pray for my President. If he does his job well, my life and the life of many in this country will be better. So, I must pray for him.

Paul did not give us guidance as to what we should pray. However, I don’t think the spirit of this verse is that we should ask that “his days be few and that another take his office.” Rather we should pray that government officials successfully lead in such a way that we may have the type of life described in 1 Timothy 2:2. Here is one rule of thumb that I wish that I practiced more. I should pray for my political leaders as least as much as I complain about them. I must confess: that rule means that I need to spend a lot more time in prayer.

Finally, it is important to remember that we should pray for ALL in authority. That includes not just Washington, D.C., but also our state capitals, courts, county commissions, school boards, city councils, and even local law enforcement. I believe that American evangelicals have been too preoccupied with Washington over the past four decades. As important as the Federal government is, there is much good we can accomplish on the local level. We should not forget to pray for these officials as well.

Review of Perry Noble’s The Most Excellent Way to Lead

themostexcellentway

The Most Excellent Way To Lead by mega-church pastor Perry Noble is  a short book asserting that 1 Corinthians 12, the Love Chapter, guides leaders to find the best way to lead others—through loving them.

Strengths

The premise is what drew me to this book. Many leadership books, including Christian books on the subject, focus on the leader or give “how-to” steps to getting people to follow or be on board. Noble asserts correctly that it all begins with love. People are more likely to support someone who sincerely loves them. Therefore, the first goal of every leader should be to love his people. This assertion is the greatest strength of the book.

Noble and the publisher recognize that the book’s target audience (mainly other pastors) is composed of very busy people. The book is a quick read. Perry and the editors balance the length of chapters. The print is large. Chapter summaries are succinct and easily referenced. The language and content are accessible to the average church leaders.

Weaknesses

Noble writes in much the same style as one of his mentor’s John Maxwell, which means that the book has many quotable statements and personal illustrations. By personal, I mean that Perry Noble is the main figure in most of those illustrations. To his credit, he does not always present himself as a good example. For many this pattern will make the book more personal and compelling. However, for me, it makes the book choppy in language and more dependent on the stories of the author than the story of Scripture.

Conclusion

Though the style is not what I prefer, the book is worthwhile to read. For task minded and goal oriented people such as myself, the reminder to love and to value people above other things is important to hear and even more important, to put into practice. I can see myself referring to the lessons found in this book often in the future.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Review of Unchanging Witness by Fortson and Grams

unchangingwitness

Unchanging Witness by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams desires to answer the recent challenges to traditional evangelical views regarding homosexuality. The authors seek to respond to the challenge not only by examining pertinent biblical passages but also by looking to the traditional teachings of the church. They hope their book will be a resource book for those who hold the traditional view.

Strengths

If the intent was to become a resource book, the authors are successful. A 380-page book is remarkably brief to reach the desired goal of the authors. The structure of the book is easy to follow. Pastors and Bible teachers looking for resources to help shape their response to attacks on the church’s views of sexuality will find this book to be a valuable resource. The structure of the book, which begins with the historic church views moving to modern views and then concluding with sections regarding the Bible’s teaching, is easily followed and can be quickly referenced.

Weaknesses

The book is high on doctrinal truth. It is weak on pastoral care for those who are dealing with homosexual desires. It was not the intent of the authors to write a manual on pastoral care; so, I recognize that my criticism is not entirely fair. I bring it up to say that ministers will want other tools on their bookshelf to go along with this one. Also, this book is not accessible to just anyone. The language is technical and theological. Pastors and teachers will need carefully and respectfully to convey this material to their congregation or class. The book is ideal for a seminary class or college level class on the subject of Christian ethics.

Analysis

This book contains nothing new, and that is precisely the point that the authors want to make. Through the centuries, the church has had one authoritative voice on the issue of homosexuality. I am most qualified to analyze this book from a missiological perspective. New teachings regarding the acceptability of homosexual behavior are what missiologists call local theologies. They are developed to answer questions that arise in a particular culture. In this case, the culture is our own, and the theology is that homosexual behavior in a committed relationship is biblically acceptable. Fortson and Grams say “no” to that conclusion.

Fortson and Grams bring the local theology that homosexual behavior is acceptable into dialogue with the rest of the church’s teaching. Many proponents of accepting same-sex marriage argue that evangelicals no longer have a universal view on the subject, and therefore, freedom exists for evangelical churches to sanction same-sex marriage. However, Fortson and Grams demonstrate that they assume too much.

The fact that disagreement exists does not make all views equal and warranted. Missiologists and theologians have devised various dialogical methods for analyzing local theologies for the purpose of determining if a local theology is worthy of either universal acceptance or, at the very least, toleration. Part of that dialogue includes not only the witness of Scripture but also the historical teaching of the church. Fortson and Gram initiate the conversation using both history and the Bible. They find the case for same-sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality to be wanting. This book is one of the most important recent books on this subject.

(I received a free copy of this book from B&H Academic in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)