#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.

#BookReview: This Earthly Frame by David Sehat

Mostly Solid History Of Official Religious Life In The United States. Sehat manages to trace the history of official religious life in the US fairly well from its pre-Founding roots through its current fights over religious liberty. There are a couple of glaring weaknesses – the largest being his claim that Natural Rights theory originated in the Christian Church (it was actually created outside of the Church as a challenge to the Church’s position that rights come from God). But as with that particular case, most of these tend to only exist in areas where a rare person might actually know the particular topic particularly well – as this former Libertarian Party of Georgia official and candidate happens to do re: Natural Rights theory. 🙂 Otherwise, a solid if slightly dry – though nowhere *near* as dry as other treatises of its type – history that would be beneficial for many Americans (or those seeking to understand America) to read. Recommended.

This review of This Earthly Frame by David Sehat was originally written on February 18, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden

This week we’re looking at an in-depth look at how and why we lie to each other via scams from history through modern times. This week we’re looking at The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden.

Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. 😉 Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: What Are The Chances by Barbara Blatchley

The Chances Are Good That This Is A Solid Book. Blatchley does an excellent job of looking at the various reasons why we believe in luck, from the societal to the social to the psychological and even the biological. And she does it with enough precision to do justice to the mathematics involved, but with enough generality to be enjoyable to a non-mathematics-oriented public. Overall an excellent “popular science” level look at the subject at hand, and very much recommended.

This review of What Are The Chances by Barbara Blatchley was originally written on March 10, 2021.

#BookReview: Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren

Too Much Faith, Not Enough Doubt. I’ve read McLaren for a few years and knew him to be of the more “progressive Christian” bent, so I knew what I was getting myself in for in picking up this book. But as always, he does have at least a few good points in here, making the book absolutely worthy of reading and contemplating. However, he also proof texts a fair amount, and any at all of this particular sin is enough for me to dock *any* book that utilizes the practice a star in my own personal war with the practice. (Though I *do* note that he isn’t as bad as other writers in this.) The other star removal comes from the title of this review, which is really my core criticism here. As is so often in his previous books as well as so many other authors, McLaren has good points about the need for doubt and how to live in harmony… but then insists on praising cult figures on both sides of the aisle such as Greta Thurnberg and David Grossman. In encouraging evaneglicals to doubt their beliefs, he seems rather sure of his own beliefs in the religions of science and government – seemingly more comfortable worshipping these religions than the Christ he claims. Overall, much of the discussion here truly is strong. It simply needed to be applied in far more areas than McLaren was… comfortable… in doing. Recommended.

This review of Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: The God Game by Danny Tobey

Solid Yet Could Have Been Transcendental. If you’ve seen the 2016 movie Nerve, you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting into here. The two are very similar in overall concept, though ultimately both use the common concept to speak to different issues. With this particular book, you get more into The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase’s mantra – everyone has a price – even as the book tries in spits and spurts to discuss much weightier metaphysical topics. Hell, the book name drops Aquinas and Lewis and uses Thoth, Christ, Freud, and Heaphestus as characters! And while all of these add some interesting wrinkles to the overall tale, ultimately this book suffers from the same fate as Marcus Sakey’s Afterlife. By this I mean that, as I said in the title, it is a solid action/ scifi book that could have been transcendental with a bit more care. Very much recommended.

This review of The God Game by Danny Tobey was originally written on January 3, 2020.

#BookReview: Free To Believe by Luke Goodrich

Decent Start. Before I get into this review, it is probably important that you – *my* reader – understand the perspective I’m coming from. And that is that of the “Doorkeeeper” of Sam Shoemaker’s somewhat famous poem “I Stand At The Door“. So look that up and you’ll understand why I’m approaching the rest of this the way I am.

For those “deep inside”, they will probably rate this book around 4* or 5*. From that perspective, it is solid but might step on a few toes here and there – and they’re not always going to like its slightly-more-pragmatic-than-many-of-them approach to its reasoning.

For the “far outside” crowd, they’re probably going to rate this thing much closer to 1*, though the more objective among them might hit it at 2*. There are just so many issues with the book, and this crowd will likely judge them more harshly than I’m about to.

So that is the range I would expect depending on where a particular reader falls on the scale of “deep inside” Christendom – particularly its American version – vs “far outside” of it. Standing at the door, I note that I deduct 1 star immediately the instant I see prooftexting, which is the practice of citing random Bible verses out of context in support of some point or another.

The fact that the prooftexting herein is so rampant – from the ending of the first chapter until nearly literally the last words of the text – and so invidious – several times very obviously taking verses *far* from their original context and meaning by any even semi objective reasoning and often times taking as little as a single word from a particular verse – means that I can’t rate this any higher than 3*. And we haven’t even gotten to the other issues yet.

The other issues being factual errors and logical fallacies, mostly strawmen but also a few others. This, from a lawyer that boasts of his perfect US Supreme Court record! Factual errors include claiming that a factory is a “typical” work environment in the US. It hasn’t been for many years now. Similarly, the author claims that “many” doctors were practicing while abortion was still completely illegal in the US, pre-Roe v Wade, which was decided nearly 37 yrs before the publication of this book. How many professionals – of any stripe – do you know who are still working after 4o years?

The strawmen primarily involve abortion, gay rights, and public spaces – which form 4 of 7 chapters in the biggest section of the book. Here, it becomes evident – particularly in the author’s discussion of gay rights – that his closeness to the issue from his professional work becomes as much a hindrance to what he is willing to speak to as a help in pointing out various legal aspects of the circumstances.

It is because of these final two issues that I had to drop my own rating from 3* to 2*.

There is much good to be found here, and at minimum it can help even non-Christians see what prominent Christian legal scholars are thinking. But the issues are simply too rampant to allow me to rank it any higher. Recommended, but should be read with an eye to what is not said as much as what is.

This review of Free to Believe by Luke Goodrich was originally written on October 17, 2019.

#BookReview: Synapse by Steven James

Christian Mass Effect? Religious Deus Ex? Fair warning on this book: It is explicitly Christian Fiction – and it is pretty damn heavy handed on the preaching. If that isn’t your thing, you don’t want to read the first sentence of this thing. The story itself is decent enough, but the hyper preaching aspects drag what could have been a pretty awesome scifi tale that could challenge some of the Golden Age masters into just another book that likely won’t reach much beyond your local (dying) Christian Bookstore. Instead of a subtle exploration of whether robots could have souls ala Blade Runner, you get what amounts to mini sermons – which is theoretically appropriate, with the central character being a preacher. Overall a solid story that could have been so much more, and recommended if you can withstand the preaching.

This review of Synapse by Steven James was originally written on October 9, 2019.

Featured New Release of the Week: Optimisfits by Ben Courson

This week we are looking at a frenetically paced Christian self help book that contains a message many need to hear. This week, we aer looking at Optimisfits by Ben Courson.

This book was truly a frenetically paced manifesto of radical hope by clinging to nothing but Jesus Christ. At times, the wording evoked images of being shouted through a megaphone. The overall tone felt like a cross between WWE’s Mojo Rawley and his “All Hype All The Time” gimmick crossed with Canadian rapper Manafest’s breakout single “No Plan B” from several years ago. Courson does a great job explaining his philosophy and even references quite a few legendary Christian thinkers, from CS Lewis to G.K. Chesterton, and his message is one that should resonate in self help and Christian millenial/ GenX circles in particular.

The book as a whole is truly a great work, but there were a couple of problems with it. For one, Courson relies a bit too much on cliche catchphrases, liberally sprinkling them across nearly every chapter of the book. Another is that he proof texts quite a bit, though he also does a solid job of explaining several Biblical stories in more modern language. And the final problem is a general lack of citation. Given how much Courson makes some claim about something someone said and then just moves on with his point, a hearty bibliography and footnotes would generally be expected… but were not present in the Advance Reader Copy edition I read. Perhaps this will be better presented in the full publication edition, in which case this particular criticism would be rendered moot.

Overall this was an excellent introduction to a new to me Christian speaker and thinker, and I’ll likely be paying a bit more attention to future efforts from this author and recommend that you both pick up this book and check out his other efforts.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: Optimisfits by Ben Courson”

#BookReview: One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse

Intriguing But Incomplete. The central premise of this book is that “Under God” and “In God We Trust” were created by a cabal of corporate and religious interests opposed to the New Deal in the 1930s, and indeed the roughly 30 year period from the mid 1930s through the mid 1960s is where the bulk of the text concentrates. For example, the 30 year period from 1980 – 2010 is encompassed only in the epilogue, the 2nd shortest of the chapters of this book, and the period before the mid 1930s is barely mentioned at all. And therein lies where the book is incomplete. It should have built the case that pre-New Deal, religious references were scant in American politics. I believe that case can be made, based on my own knowledge of the history, but I’d like to see the efforts of a more trained historian on the matter. Instead, Kruse zeroes in on the New Deal opponents. But within the framework that he creates, he actually does do a solid job of showing how their efforts led to the increased religiosity of the Eisenhower Administration and from there directly to the Culture Wars as we know them now – though Kruse never uses the term “Culture Wars”. Even with my own better than average knowledge of the relevant events, I learned quite a bit here and had at least a few attitudes shifted. Highly recommended reading for anyone actually interested in the subject from any side of the issue.

This review of One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse was originally published on October 14, 2018.