#BookReview: Faithful Politics by Miranda Zapor Cruz

Comprehensive Look At Different Ways Different Christian Communities Have Viewed Politics Over The Millenia. This book is truly one of the most comprehensive looks at the subject that I’ve yet run across, and for that alone is to be commended. It is also immensely readable, which is always a nice bonus in an academic-oriented book.

Perhaps the only “negative” thing to be said here (and certainly some will view this as quite the positive, or even argue she doesn’t go far *enough*), is that Cruz at times can be a bit *too* tough on the Christian Nationalism crowd, while openly claiming a high degree of tolerance for every other perspective she discusses. Even as I oppose the Christian Nationalists myself (finding more cause for Anarchism in the text of the Bible than any support for any modern nation, *including* the modern State of Israel), I would have liked to have seen their positions presented with the same detached rational approach as all of the other perspectives presented – mostly because I truly believe that when presented in those same terms, the Christian Nationalists *still* lose, and lose bigger because they *were* given a rational chance.

Even this, though, is not the actual cause of the star deduction. The cause of the star deduction is instead the complete non-existence of any hint of a bibliography, which are generally present even in these Advance Reviewer Copy forms of texts, as I have quite a bit of experience reading and reviewing over the last several years (where 20-30% is considered my norm, though I’ve also openly discussed perhaps lowering that a touch more recently).

Still, even that is a flaw that will hopefully be corrected in the final form of the book.

Overall an interesting and comprehensive examination of the topic, one anyone interested in Christianity and Politics in America – for any reason – should make it a point to read. Particularly before any Presidential Election. Yes, including the one being conducted less than 90 days after the publication of this very book. Very much recommended.

This review of Faithful Politics by Miranda Zapor Cruz was originally written on April 5, 2024.

#BookReview: God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne

(Mostly) Well Documented History Of the Entire History of ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ As The Term Was Known Through The Late 20th And Early 21st Centuries.

For those of us who grew up with ‘CCM’, this is actually a refreshing history that traces the roots of the music from its earliest days in 19th century songbooks through the early days of rock and roll through the heights of the late 80s- early 2000s boom and all the way to the seeming life support bed the genre currently finds itself on. Along the way, you’re going to hear tales of names both familiar and not and how they shaped or played a role in the genre and how it has been presented.

One thing to note is that the author *does* have a particular “it was always racist” bent to much of her commentary, so your mileage may vary there. But at 18% documentation, it is close enough to expected to classify as (mostly) well documented. (20-30%+ has been more of the actual norm in my experience, but I’ve noted in other reviews over the last several months that perhaps I should be revising that down to perhaps around 15% or so given more recent experience.)

This noted, I’ve never encountered a book quite so comprehensive in all my years both within the CCM community and as a book blogger, including having even worked books from Jaci Velasquez and Mark Stuart (lead singer of Audio Adrenaline) as advanced reader copies over the course of the last few years + read Jennifer Knapp’s memoir. Thus, having never come across any book quite like this one, given my own experiences, means it truly is quite likely quite rare indeed. That it is (mostly, again, see the YMMV comment above) so well written is almost a bonus given its comprehensive analysis of the history involved.

Ultimately this is one that some may want to defenestrate at times, but still absolutely a worthy read for anyone remotely interested in the subject. Very much recommended.

This review of God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne was originally written on January 26, 2024.

#BookReview: The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden

Solid Adventure W/ The Promised Christian Apocalyptic Themes. Going into this review, I was going to call out the heavy use of a particular version of Christian eschatological (end times) thinking, one that the reader of both this review and this book may or may not agree with/ have issues with (but you should absolutely read this book even if you do, as it *does* work within-world). But then I noticed the description of the book, and a careful reading there actually points the reader to knowing that these themes will be there. So hey, you’ve now been warned both in the description and in this review. Still, again, even if you are die-hard 100% adamantly opposed to believing anything remotely similar to this strain of thought… read this tale anyway. It is more action/ adventure/ spy thriller than anything overly Christian, and even when it gets into its (several) eschatological discussions, it isn’t preachy about it. Instead, the tale lays out the in-world reasons for thinking this way, and as this is admittedly a fiction tale, it never actually makes “real”-world claims about the authenticity of any of them. Yes, prayer and conversion are also discussed here, but again, always in world and never overly preachy, and those familiar with American conservative evangelicalism will likely be familiar with most of the speech patterns used here. (Even if you’re not familiar with that particular version of Christianity, it will be close enough and explained well enough in-world to follow along.)

No matter what else, this is absolutely a fun adventure with tinges of the scifi, and absolutely worth the read no matter your thoughts on any “real”-world issue. Very much recommended.

This review of The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden was originally written on November 7, 2023.

#BookReview: Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson

τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας Νέμεσις. In one of the more famous Biblical passages amongst at least certain American crowds – and, based on Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God and Dante’s Inferno (itself based on earlier works by St. Thomas Aquinas and non-Biblical yet popular Apocalypse tales that circled in the early centuries within the Christian community), possibly among the more famous Biblical passages in all of Christendom, St. Paul once wrote in his Epistle to the Romans “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV/ NKJV)

The title of this review is actually Robinson’s spin on that particular verse, which he essentially used to reboot and retell the story of Νέμεσις – Nemesis, the ancient Greek god of vengeance he originally crafted a balls to the wall kaiju action series around in PROJECT: NEMESIS. Which led to his very *first* ‘Avengers Level Event’ (my term for it) collaboration at the end of that series. If you want the actual translation of the title… you’re gonna have to read the book. Though this review so far should give you a pretty good idea of what it says. 😀 I can honestly say that the very first time I saw that particular phrase in the book, I IM’d Jeremy directly immediately and said “this *has* to be your next image in your TeePublic store“. It was that awesome. 😀

And the rest of the story is equally amazing, unexpectedly bringing back yet another creature from the Robinsonverse – whose origin even in its standalone tale was tied to an “alternate dimension” Nemesis + another connection to yet a third Robinsonverse tale, and whose origin remains intact (in at least these two respects) in this tale. Indeed, the unexpected just keeps coming within this tale, as the presence of this particular creature – and specifically how it is created here – draws Nemesis herself in for yet again more very creative monster/ kaiju fighting. Indeed, even for long time fans of Nemesis herself… old girl’s got some new tricks here, particularly since this is a *different version* of her. 😉 And not just Nemesis. Other features of those books also get entirely rebooted, including a new “Betty” with some interesting new abilities that turn our heroes into in some cases even more badass versions of a particular red and gold Marvel superhero. Also note to be missed is Robinson’s commentary on a particular 2010s era movie that may or may not have included one particular scene that may or may not have been *eerily* reminiscent of the earlier Nemesis tales, in one exact moment in particular.

One thing I need to make 100% crystal clear though: Old fans, new fans, whoever you may be: This is a 100% standalone book. You don’t need to know *anything* about literally anything to enjoy this tale as it is written. You don’t need to have read every Robinson book (or nearly so). You don’t need to have a deep knowledge base of Christian thought. You don’t even have to have any knowledge of pop culture (and in some cases, some relatively obscure areas that wouldn’t necessarily be described as overly “popular”, more along the lines of “cult” at best). This is still the New God of Science Fiction doing what he does best, and that which he does better than anyone else I’ve ever come across – giving you kick ass, balls to the wall, science fiction action/ thrillers that sometimes make you think, often times have connections all around that don’t impede the story, and are always upping themselves in just how creative their creator can be.

It is actually quite funny me in particular. Yet again, Robinson said “I’m working on this new concept” and said what it was. Yet again I was skeptical. And yet again, Robinson earned every praise I can ever give his storytelling and world crafting abilities. (I famously did this with the Chess Team/ Jack Sigler Adventures when he first told me about them – and they became one of his greatest early career innovations.)

Truly a fun bit of escapist science fiction that will nearly be as deep as you want it to be – and no more. Exactly what the best science fiction has always done. Very much recommended.

This review of Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson was originally written on August 23, 2023.

#BookReview: Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore

Welcome Back, Dr. Moore! For roughly a decade now, the once-phenomenal Dr. Russell Moore has been either a shill for SBC Leadership in his role as head of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission or embroiled in controversy over his rabid anti-Trumpism. Here, while not *completely* stepping back from either position, Moore does an excellent job of calling American Churchianity – not just the SBC, but *all* of American Churchianity – back to a focus on Christ, Him Crucified, and Spreading the Gospel. Full of Southern aphorisms that even this native Son of the South rarely heard in the exurbs of Atlanta, despite being barely a decade younger than Moore, this text also shows just how knowledgeable and insightful Moore at his best can show himself to be. And yes, while allowing that he is still wrong on a few positions (which I’m sure he and others would disagree with me over), this really is a return to the best of Moore, the Moore that made me at first *excited* that he was taking over the ERLC.

Indeed, the only reasons for the two star deductions are simple: the dearth of a bibliography – less than 10%! – when 20-30% is more normal, and even at least 20% is more normal *within this specific genre*, and the frequent use of “prooftexting”, the practice of citing Bible verses outside of their context as “proof” of some point or another, which is a rampant problem in this genre in particular.

Still, if you’re a Christian in America today… you need to read this book. If you’re just interested in studying the decline of Christianity in America today and what could be done about it… you need to read this book. And if you’re actively anti anything remotely Christian… maybe skip this one. 😉 Still, that means that several million Americans… need to read this book. Very much recommended.

This review of Losing Our Religion by Russell D. Moore was originally written on June 18, 2023.

#BookReview: Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler

Proposing A New View Of Sexual Ethics. This book is remarkably well written and remarkably well balanced, one that no matter your views on any sex or gender related topic, at some point here you’re most likely going to fall into the classic preacher joke of “Woah, woah, woah, preacher! You’re stepping on my toes!” “I apologize, my [brother/ sister] in Christ. I was aiming for your heart.” (and/ or, in this case, the brain as well) 😀 In other words, no matter your views on these topics coming into this book, there are more than likely going to be things you’re wholeheartedly agreeing with… and others that are likely going to make you want to throw the book out of the nearest window. For those who have routinely been condemned by existing Christian ethics, know that there is no condemnation here – indeed, Butler spends a fair amount of time examining exactly what Paul was doing in Romans, one of the oft-cited condemnation passages, and explains how it doesn’t really directly apply to sexual issues, but to *all* issues. And yet, at the very same time, Butler does not shy away from the idea that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s perfect design and intention, and explains a new view of exactly why he still holds to this position. Ignoring Frank Viola’s Parable Of Marvin Snurdley, Butler does a truly remarkable and seemingly thorough job of looking at all issues surrounding sex and gender and shows that traditional views are the closest to being correct… though not always the closest in actual reasoning or in explaining *why* they are correct, which is something he seeks to change here. Oh, and those who have read Ted Dekker’s Circle Series are likely to notice some similar language. Indeed, while it is unknown to me if Butler had ever read this particular (somewhat famous in Christian circles) series, Butler here truly elevates and grounds some of the concepts Dekker explores particularly early in that series.

The single star deduction is for prooftexting, which while not *as* prevalent here and while Butler *mostly* explains the full contexts of the passages he spends extended time with (such as the creation account in Genesis and the aforementioned passage of Romans, among a few others), he *does* still engage in citing Biblical verses out of context at times in “support” of some point or another, and I am on a one-man-war to eradicate this practice everywhere I see it. In book reviews, my only weapon is the single star deduction, and thus I apply it in all cases where I notice the problem.

Ultimately this is a book that will prove highly controversial, and yet it is also a book that truly everyone, particularly those who consider themselves “thinkers” or “educated” or “learned” or some such, will need to at least read and consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Don’t Hold Back by David Platt

Far From Radical. This is a book that should be widely read because it does have some interesting and important things to say – and yet it was also far from a radical adherence to the teachings of Jesus Christ that the description would lead one to believe. Even among the first three chapters, Chapter 2 openly counters the claims and arguments of Chapters 1 and 3, with Chapter 2 being a hyper-progressive/ leftist screed one would hardly expect from someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and whose arguments are never actually found in the words or actions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The ubiquitous-but-heavier-later defense of the American government and American military is, again, far from radical and completely unBiblical, but will feed right into those very conservative SBC churches Platt has long been associated with. Thus showing that Platt doesn’t mind crossing current political boundaries – and yet, again, Platt never in this text does the truly radical thing of embracing a full-throated embrace of YAHWEH as declared in 1 Samuel 8 (which would require a full rejection of all earthly kings).

But on all of the above, ultimately your mileage will vary and there will be some points you agree with no matter your own political slants and others you disagree with, which is actually (to my own mind at least) the mark of a Christian preacher actually doing his job – because in Christ, there *are* no politics, and the things Christ does speak of and do do *not* align neatly with 21st century American politics.

No, ultimately the two star deductions come from two more basic and more technical errors here:

1) Prooftexting, which is citing Bible verses out of context. Platt is far from alone in this practice – most *every* Christian author does it, and even some non-Christian ones – and yet it is *wrong* on so many levels. Thus, I wage a one-man war against the practice any time I encounter it, and the only “weapon” I have in that war as a book reviewer is a star deduction.

2) Lack of Bibliography. Coming in at barely 15% of the overall text here, this is lighter than the 20-30% that is more typical in my experience, and far from the particularly-well-documented level of near 50%. For the amount of non-Biblical claims Platt makes and in particular how controversial at least some of them can be, there really needs to be *far* better documentation of them.

Ultimately this *is* a book that will challenge you to some degree or another virtually no matter what your thinking is on religion and/ or politics, and that alone makes it a worthy read for everyone. Very much recommended.

This review of Don’t Hold Back by David Platt was originally written on October 29, 2022.

#BookReview: I Believe by Thom S Rainer

Solid (Within Author’s Worldview) Short Guide To Fundamentals Of Christian Faith. This book really does do what it sets out to do – lay out what Christians generally believe and at least some reasoning as to why they believe it. It doesn’t get too heavily into the things that split off the various sects and denominations such as baptism or saints, and even when it touches on End Times discussions, it lays out the basic thinking of each of the different ways of thinking about the topic. And it does it in a fairly concise manner, covering a wide range of topics with fairly short chapters and clocking in as a whole at less than 200 pages – which is truly remarkable given its full breadth of discussion. More extreme liberal Christians may have more issues with the points here, as Rainer explicitly has a chapter about God the *Father*, and a few other quibbles here or there based on that thinking – which Rainer, given his more conservative Baptist background, doesn’t dive into so much. Other potential attacks from Christians could include Rainer’s focus on the Bible as the “Word of God”, despite John 1:1 being quite clear that *Jesus Christ* is the “Word of God”, not the Bible, and Rainer’s frequent references to the Pauline epistles as defense of some of his claims – which anyone familiar with the Parable of Marvin Snurdley (from Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity) – will likely question.

All of the above noted, the sole reason for the sole star deduction here is the frequent- beginning seemingly literally on Page 1 – use of “proof texting” – citing a Bible verse out of context in defense of some claim or another. I have been quite adamant in waging a one-man war against the practice, and the single star deduction is really the only “weapon” I have with which to wage my war. Thus, I apply it any time a book uses the practice.

Ultimately though, this truly is a solid view of the fundamentals of Christianity, given the caveats of the author’s own worldview, and is truly a solid resource for anyone seeking to understand the basic tenets of the general faith for any reason. Very much recommended.

This review of I Believe by Thom S Rainer was originally written on October 8, 2022.

#BookReview: Emerald Dragon by David Wood

Solid And Short Maddock Adventure Perfect For Longtime Fans And People New To The Universe. Much like Golden Dragon a couple of books prior to this one, this is another short adventure – though at 120 pages, it is nearly double the length of Golden Dragon. It also has seemingly slightly fewer connections and references to other pars of the Maddock universe, though it has several connections to Golden Dragon – which is why readers should make sure they read that book first. (Seriously, buy both and you’ll likely finish both while waiting at the doctor’s office. :D) Here, we’re in Ireland and when you’re studying cryptids and ancient mysteries in Ireland… you get St. Patrick. And dragons. And lots of green stuff. And pagans. And old libraries and castles and crypts. When you’re *Maddock and Bones* virtually anywhere, you know there are going to be fun chase and hand to hand combat sequences, with a few guns going off here and there to boot and maybe some interesting mystical objects that turn out to be weapons of various forms. So pick this book up, have a couple of hours of relaxation and fun… and then go back to whatever awaits you in the “real” world, happier now that you’ve had the break. Very much recommended.

This review of Emerald Dragon by David Wood was originally written on September 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana

Mostly Solid Examination – If From A Single Worldview. This is one of those examinations of an issue where the examination seems mostly solid, but is also clear that it is from a particular worldview – and the reader’s own feelings about that worldview will likely determine how much the reader enjoys or agrees with the author’s reasonings and recommendations. Specifically, Smeitana’s ultimate point is that older white churches are out, and younger multi-ethnic churches are in. Mostly using a more case study approach with a few more general facts thrown in (and with a scant bibliography of just about 12% of the text, rather than the 25-33% or so that is more typical of more scholarly based examinations in my experience), this book tells the tale of where the American Church finds itself now, what Smietana thinks got it here, and how he believes it can adapt into the future. And again, all of this seems objectively pretty reasonable, and how you view his particular slant will likely determine whether you agree more or less with it.

Ultimately the two stars deducted here – while I considered a third star deduction for the scant bibliography, I ultimately leaned against it due to the power of the case studies and clear direct investigations – were for proof texting and for large discussions of COVID. The proof texting was a complete brain fart, as he really only does it twice (vs other “Christian Living” books doing it *far* more often), but it is an automatic star deduction *every* time I see it, in my own personal war against the practice. The discussions of COVID largely couldn’t be avoided for anyone writing a book about where the American Church is in 2022, with the COVID disruptions of the past couple of years shifting the landscape in this arena at least as much as within any other, and objectively I can acknowledge this. However, *I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID*. Period. And therefore I wage a one man war against any and every book that mentions it as well.

Ultimately this is a book that I think it is important for anyone interesting in American Christianity and where it is and can go to consider, as there really are a lot of interesting and compelling discussions within it and points to consider, no matter your own religious or political persuasions. For this reason, it is very much recommended.

This review of Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana was originally written on August 31, 2022.